Labour’s leader has chosen to take the tired old path of demonstrating his leadership credentials by picking a fight with the left of the Party at this year’s Conference. One part of this project is a proposal to change the system for electing Party Leader back from “one member one vote” (OMOV) to an electoral college in which a third of the votes would go to members, a third to affiliates and a third to Members of Parliament.
UNISON’s delegation to Labour Party Conference will have to decide how to cast our block vote at the Conference, constrained only by the requirement to act in accordance with UNISON Labour Link policy.
The previous electoral college system - a compromise adopted in the 1980s to stop the Leader being chosen exclusively by Members of Parliament - eventually evolved to the point at which union members voted in order to cast our union votes which were then weighted as were votes from individual members and Members of Parliament.
Under Ed Miliband’s leadership the rules were changed at a special Conference to remove the electoral college and have a simple “one member one vote” (OMOV) system (in which affiliated members could cast their - equal - vote alongside individual members and Members of Parliament).
UNISON supported Miliband’s rule changes in 2014, so establishing that UNISON Labour Link Policy is to support OMOV in the Labour Party for leadership elections.
The OMOV system did not remove the ability of trade unions to make recommendations as to who to support, nor to campaign to get our members to cast their votes.
UNISON Labour Link backed Corbyn in 2015 (having consulted Labour Link payers) and Dave Prentis was then fulsome in his praise for Jeremy Corbyn when he won.
Having repeated the consultation exercise following the abortive 2016 leadership challenge UNISON supported Corbyn once more.
In 2020 the Labour Link Committee made a recommendation without consulting members and that recommendation was for Keir Starmer - but the fact that the union recommended support for the current leader does not reverse established UNISON Labour Link policy from 2014 to support the OMOV system.
Starmer’s cheerleaders within the Party are trying to persuade trade unionists that a return to the electoral college in some way increases the role of trade unions in the Party. This is (of course) completely untrue.
The point of the proposed return to the electoral college is to empower the Parliamentary Labour Party at the expense of individual and affiliated members of the Party. That this is dressed up as “making the Party more electable” by “putting the Corbyn era behind us” simply demonstrates how little respect the leadership has for the intellectual capacity of those same cheerleaders.
The more right-wing rule changes the leadership can get through this year’s Conference the more emboldened they will be to complete the transformation of the Party away from its roots.
If UNISON’s Labour Party Conference delegation were to support these changes they would truly be turkeys voting for Christmas.