Labour’s farcical voting system

The changes Ed Miliband made to the Labour party voting system is a threat to the party itself. Emily Hohler reports.


Could Jeremy Corbyn's leadership split the Labour party?

If Labour elects Jeremy Corbyn as leader, "no historical comparison will do the event justice", says The Financial Times. The party has been "led eccentrically" before (Michael Foot in the 1980s), but this "committed socialist" is a new "order of stridency". Parallels with the current success of far-left parties in Europe don't apply. These are "scrappy young parties that define themselves against the mainstream". Labour is more than a century old and has provided Britain with five prime ministers since World War II.

"The sudden transformation of an established party is more shocking than the eruption of a new one. It is easier to understand Corbynism as a process of venting than as a blueprint for power." Many of his backers know that he cannot win the general election in 2020. It may be "exciting", but for Labour and Britain it is very harmful. A Corbyn leadership would split the party. Even if he were "quickly deposed, the radioactive half-life would last for years". The absence of "serious opposition" damages public life.

Corbyn's policies were rejected "not because they were too principled, but because a majority of the British people thought they didn't work", says Tony Blair in The Guardian. Today's challenges cannot be met by "old-fashioned state control". A party "without a serious deficit reduction plan" cannot be a serious contender to govern. Corbyn's campaign has "sparked interest" because "there is something fascinating about watching a party wrestle with its soul. It doesn't mean it's a smart place to be".

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Labour's voting system lies behind this "unruly farce", says The Times. Under rules introduced by Ed Miliband to curb the influence of trade unions and the hard left, anyone who ticks a box confirming they support Labour's "aims and values" can become a "registered supporter" for £3 and vote in the leadership contest. This was a "big mistake". Since the general election, Labour membership has swollen by more than 400,000, to around 610,000.

A vetting process is under way to weed out infiltrators, but given the low staff levels, the checks will either have to be "super-humanly quick or unacceptably lax". Unless the party devotes more resources to this, the September ballot could be tainted, its legitimacy called into question, and MPs could trigger a new contest by putting forward a challenger in the "ordinary" way. If this happens, Labour will have to introduce a more sensible voting system immediately.

Corbyn may yet not win, says Polly Toynbee in The Guardian. Right now he is winning cheers for "poking every hornet's nest", but it's no good being radical without the "missing gold dust of credibility". When asked who they regard as most competent, the YouGov poll of Labour members puts Yvette Cooper in the lead at 61%, with Andy Burnham on 53% and Corbyn on 38%. "That's from the same people who say they'll vote Corbyn. Might they be persuaded to think again, before putting the X in the box?"

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.