Queensland Labor rejects 50/50

Over the weekend, Queensland became the latest state Labor branch to embrace the direct election model for ALP leader. An Electoral College that evenly divided votes amongst rank-and-file ALP members, the State Parliamentary Labor Party and affiliated unions (33/33/33) was adopted rather than the 50/50 model.

Unlike the rules adopted by Tasmanian Labor, affiliated unions will have their Conference delegates cast their votes. Unions will be able to ballot, or otherwise consult with their rank and file members, an approach that New Zealand Labour has adopted. New Zealand Labour lets each affiliated union decide if voting will be undertaken by union delegates to Conference or amongst the eligible membership of the union.

This morning, the Queensland Secretary of the National Union of Workers announced that all union members would be balloted to determine who is supported. I imagine that most other unions are likely to follow, however, there is no guarantee that all will adopt this approach. During the 2013 New Zealand Labour leadership election, only one union, the Service and Food Workers Union, conducted a ballot of its members in determining who it supported.

Some unions may get their delegates to cast the vote but in the long-term, it may not be teneable and would be criticised heavily. A rule change requiring unions to ballot members individually and allocate the results proportionally, similar to that adopted at the 1993 British Labour Conference, is likely to be put up.

While the campaign for the direct election of leader has nearly won, Queensland Conference demonstrates that the battle over what model is still far from over.


Comparing the rules of labour parties

The successful campaign to directly elect the ALP leader has meant there is widespread knowledge about how sister parties such as the British Labour Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party elect their leader.

There, however, continues to be limited knowledge about other internal aspects of our sister parties. Given the continuing debate over affiliation, the selection of delegates and the election of officebearers within the ALP, greater knowledge of how similar parties operate would improve the party reform debate.

The following tables are an attempt to provide some comparative examination of labour parties in the English-speaking world. It covers who can affiliate, how the allocation of Conference delegates is determined and how party officebearers are elected.

The information in these tables is based on most recent publicly available information.



Party Who can affiliate? How affiliation occurs? Other relevant clauses
UK Labour
  • Trade unions affiliated to the Trade Union Congress or considered bona fide trade unions
  • Co-operative societies
  • Socialist socieities
  • Other organisations which have interests consistent with the Labour Party
  • Organisations may, subject to the decision of the National Executive Committee, which shall be final and binding, affiliate to the party. Each affiliated organisation must:
  1. accept the programme, policy and principles of the party
  2. agree to conform to the constitution and standing orders of the party
  3. submit its political rules to the NEC
  • Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the party, having their own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the party.
  • The panel of the NEC responsible for assessing applications from socialist societies to affiliate to the party shall have regard to procedural guidelines determined by the NEC, which are available from the Compliance Unit
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • Affiliation is open to trade unions, farm groups, co-operatives, women’s organisations and other groups
  • An application for affiliation must be made to the Executive and include:
  1. evidence that the organization officially supports the NDP and
  2. confirmation of the number of NDP members within the applicant organization
NZ Labour
  • An affiliate of the Party is any Trade Union or other organisation which has applied for membership, subscribes to the Constitution and Policy of the New Zealand Labour Party, and has been approved by the New Zealand Council
  • Affiliate membership shall be decided by a majority of votes cast of the affiliate and affiliation should be in accordance with the percentage of the votes cast. All members of an affiliate must be given adequate notice and an opportunity to vote on affiliation. The question of affiliation must be decided by either a ballot of the members of the affiliate proposing to affiliate or, in the absence of a ballot, by a method of formal determination that is certified as satisfactory for the purposes of proving proper procedures for formal determination of the question of affiliation
  • The names and addresses of members of affiliates shall be made available to the General Secretary of the New Zealand Labour Party for the purposes of inspection only, in connection with verifying the eligibility of affiliated members to take part in the constitutional processes of the party at electorate level. Such lists remain the property of the affiliate
Irish Labour
  • Trade unions, sections or divisions of unions that are not themselves group members, professional associations, co-operative societies and other organisations which subscribe to the Party’s Principles and Objects and accept this Constitution are eligible for group membership of the Party
  • Applications for group membership shall be made to the Executive Board. Every applicant for group membership shall make, through a duly authorised officer, a declaration that the group subscribes to the Party’s Principles and Objects and accepts this Constitution
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • All bona fide unions shall have the right to affiliate to the ALP
  • This right to affiliate shall not be impaired unless it can be demonstrated clearly that the relevant organisation is not a bona fide union or that the organisation has engaged in conduct that renders it unsuitable to be affiliated

N.B: Affiliation may change by the end of 2014 for British Labour, in line with the adopted recommendations of the Collins Report.

Conference delegations 

Party Rank-and-file delegation Union delegation Rules around delegations
UK Labour
  • 1 delegate for the first 749 individual members
  • 1 further delegate per additional 250 members or part thereof
  • Where the individual women’s membership in a
    constituency is 100 or more, an additional woman delegate may be appointed
  • 1 delegate per 5,000 members or part thereof
  • Where membership is less than 5,000, an additional woman delegate may be appointed if the women’s membership is 400 or more
  • Delegation should include women at least in the proportions in which they are represented in that organisation’s membership
  • at least every second delegate from a CLP shall be a woman; where only one delegate is appointed this must be a woman at least in every other year
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • 1 delegate per 50 party members
  • 1 delegate per 50 members
  • Canadian Labour Council entitled to 4
  • Unions with at least 1 affiliate entitled to 2
  • Provincial federation of labour with at least one affiliate shall be entitled to 2
  • Each affiliated labour council with at least one local affiliated shall be entitled to 2
  • Union delegations are based on number of affiliate members who are party members
NZ Labour
  • A minimum of 4 plus one more delegate for every 50 members or part thereof
  • 1 delegate for membership not exceeding 200
  • 2 delegates for membership from 201-500
  • 3 delegates for membership from 501-1000
  • 4 delegates for membership from 1001-1500 with 1 extra delegate and vote for each additional 500 members or part thereof
  • No affiliate may exercise more than 12 votes unless it is represented by at least four delegates
  • All delegations comprising of two or more delegates shall ensure that women are part of their delegation
  • Any such organisation that does not must justify their absence and will lose one vote. If no acceptable justification is provided they will lose all but one of their voting entitlement
Irish Labour
  • 2 delegates for membership not exceeding 10 with 1 additional for every 5 additional members and an 1 additional for every 10 affiliated individual members
  • Constituency members (members in an electorate who aren’t in a branch) elect the number of delegates they’re entitled to as if they were a branch
  • Less than 50 members – 1 delegate per 5
  • Above 50 but less than 500 – plus 1 per 10
  • Above 500 but less than 1000 – plus 1 per 15
  • For additional members above 1,000 – plus 1 per 20
  • Delegates are elected by group members, in accordance with the following scale of individual members of each group member who are branch members of the Party
  • In any election of more than one member or delegate to Party Conference, not fewer than 30% of those so elected are women and not fewer than 30% are men.
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • 12 per state plus twice the number of electorates in that state as at the previous 31 December
  • 2 per territory plus twice the number of electorates in that territory as at the previous 31 December
  • In Tasmania, 50% are elected by members in a postal ballot and the remained by state conference
  • In NSW, one delegate will be from each Federal Electorate Council
  • No separate union delegation to National Conference, elected from State Conferences.
  • In all states, the state conference shall comprise 50% union representatives and 50% constituency Party representatives
  • Not less than 40% of a union’s delegation shall be women, and not less than 40% shall be men. Provided that if the level of male or female membership of a union is less than 40%, the minimum representation shall be set at that level
  • It shall be the right of each union to determine the criteria and procedures for selection of its delegates, subject to those delegates being financial members of that union and of the Party
  • All elections, other than public office, for three or more positions, shall comply with the affirmative action model. Not less than 40% of such positions shall be held by women, and not less than 40% by men, provided that sufficient candidates of the relevant gender nominate. If the calculation to determine the basic entitlement results in a fraction of one half or more then the basic entitlement shall be the next higher whole number, and where it results in a fraction of less than one half it shall be the next lower number.

N.B: Union delegate numbers may change by the end of 2014 for British Labour, in line with the adopted recommendations of the Collins Report.

Election of Officebearers 

Party What officers How are they elected?
UK Labour
  • Chair
  • Vice-Chair
  • General Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • The General Secretary shall be elected by conference on the recommendation of the National Executive Committee (NEC)
  • NEC shall elect its chair and vicechair at its 1st meeting each year
  • Treasurer elected by an electoral college of votes from members by OMOV and by affiliates
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • President
  • Vice President
  • Vice President Labour
  • Treasurer
  • National Director
  • President, treasurer is elected by all delegates
  • Vice President is elected by caucus of delegates of the linguistic language group other than the President’s i.e. if President is Anglophone, Vice is Francophone
  • Vice President Labour is nominated by a caucus of labour delegates and ratified by the Convention 
  • National Director appointed by Officers and raitifed by Council
NZ Labour
  • The President of the Party
  • A Senior Vice-President of the Party
  • A Maori Senior Vice-President of the Party
  • An Affiliate Vice-President of the Party
  • A Pacific Islands Vice-President of the Party
  • A Women’s Vice-President of the Party
  • A Youth Vice-President of the Party
  • A Rainbow Representative
  • General Secretary
  • All except the General Secretary are elected by the delegates assembled at the Annual Conference
  • The General Secretary shall be confirmed by Annual Conference and hold office on terms and conditions agreed with the New Zealand Council
Irish Labour
  • The Party Chairperson
  • Party Treasurer
  • General Secretary
  • Chairperson and Treasurer is elected by the Party Conference
  • The General Secretary is appointed by the Executive Board, following an open competitive process conducted under the authority of the Party Leader and with the approval of the Board
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • President, Senior Vice President, Junior Vice President
  • National Secretary
  • Assistant National Secretaries
  • The National President and 2 National Vice-Presidents must be directly elected by members 12 months before each triennial Conference in a single ballot by proportional representation
  • National Secretary shall be elected by the National Conference and re-elected at every second Conference
  • Assistant National Secretaries elected by the National Executive/li>


The Australian Labor Party is the only party that does not include a clause to allow affiliation by organisations that are not trade unions in its rules. All other parties specifically allow affiliation by non-industrial organisations.

The ALP is also the only party that has a fixed proportion of union delegates on Conference floor. Elsewhere, more members increases the size of Conference and the size of union and rank-and-file delegations are not automatically linked. Almost all others have a system where delegations are tied to the number of members (union and party). Depending on the exact rules, union delegations range from between 20% to 50% of Conference floor.

The Canadian NDP and Irish Labour also differ from other parties as the number of delegates from affiliates is based on the number of individual members of the party who are affiliate members. Both, however, are third parties, not one of the major parties in their parliamentary party system.

Interestingly, Australian Labor Party is alone in having the direct election of officebearers. All other parties elect their officebearers through Conference delegates or through the National Executive (or equivalent) of their party.

What this comparative exercise shows is that the ALP’s internal structure operates very differently from other labour parties in the English-speaking world. These differences should be acknowledged and understood when debating party reform to ensure a more informed discussion occurs.

Mapping the left-wing of global social democracy

Whether called factions, currents, tendencies or platforms, there are often organised and sometimes formalised left-leaning groups within or seeking to pressure social democratic parties. Within the Australian Labor Party, it’s the Labor Left but what about elsewhere in the world?

While factionalism does not exist to the same extend within British Parliamentary Labour Party, there are left-wing pressure groups such as Compass, Next Generation Labour and those much further to the left such as the Labour Representation Committee. There are others that organise slates for internal elections such as Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. In Scotland, there is the Campaign for Socialism.

In other sister labour parties, left-wing groups have emerged and disappeared. For example, inside Irish Labour, left-wing members established the Campaign for Labour Policies trying to outline an alternative to the austerity agenda being pursued by the current Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government. In Canada, there was the New Politics Intiative that believed the New Democratic Party was moving too far to the Right and sought to integrate social movements into the party that disbanded in the mid-2000s.

Outside of the English-speaking world, left-wing groupings are far less known due to language barriers.

The German Social Democratic Party, for example, has a Parliamentary Left grouping that has existed since the 1970s and an aligned think-tank, Forum Democratic Left (DL21).

Other more factionalised social democratic parties have a more diverse range of left-wing groups that appear and disappear. Within the French Socialist Party,  there appear to be a range of other institutionalised left-wing groupings at a party and youth level. The main left faction appears to be Maintenant la gauche who have opposed Hollande’s austerity agenda. Another recent notable grouping to emerge is the Socialistes Affligés led by former MEP Liem Hoang Ngoc and university professor and Guardian columnist Philippe Marliere which includes those outside of the French PS who are seeking a possible “red-rose-green” alliance to force a left turn and avoid emulating PASOK.

Some other parties have recognised factions exist and incorporated their recognition into party rules. For example, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) has recognised the Izquierda Socialista or Socialist Left faction and even provides space on the party website. Under the Italian Democratic Party’s rules, groups can be established and can operate autonomously. They have been actively promoted as it has sought to become a broad-based party that includes all those from the centre to the left. The main left-wing grouping that currently exists is Remake Italy.

Given the known links between the moderate or “right-wing” of social democratic and labour parties (e.g. Labor Right and British Labour’s Progress) and the transfer of ideas via these relationships, the social democratic left should also seek to identity the “left-wing” of sister parties, build and strengthen these relationships.

UPDATED 16/08/17: The list would now obviously include Momentum but also soft left groups like Open Labour within British Labour.

Lessons from New Zealand Labour

Earlier today, the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, David Shearer, announced his resignation as party leader. Shearer’s resignation paves the way for NZ Labour’s first direct election of its parliamentary leader.

Last year, New Zealand Labour Congress embraced the direct election of the parliamentary party leader, adopting a three section electoral college (40/40/20) with 40% allocated to rank-and-file members and the Parliamentary Party and 20% allocated to members of affiliated unions. It is similar to the model that the British Labour Party uses (33/33/33) and that some within the Australian Labor Party are advocating.

Australian progressives should pay attention to the upcoming NZ Labour leadership contest as it will provide lessons in how to run (and how not to run) a direct election contest. It will be interesting to see how involving affiliated union members will work in practice, what the turnout will be and what the eligibility will be to participate in the ballot.

The leadership election is also likely to shape Labor’s post-election debate about whether there should be a 50/50 model or if affiliated unions should be involved and may be cited as an example by advocates of a three section electoral college.

Whatever ends up happening, it will be worth keeping a close eye on what unfolds across the Tasman.

UPDATE: Over at KiwiBlog, there is an explanation of how the union section will work. It seems that other than one union, all the others are using Conference delegates instead of One Member One Vote.