Electoral college the best way to cement 150 years of progress — Mike Payne

In the week of TUC Congress celebrates 150 years of our existence, Welsh Labour members will tomorrow debate loosening the ties between the Trade Unions and the Party that we founded.

GMB is clear we believe that the adoption of a reformed electoral college is essential to maintain our ground-breaking partnership that has transformed the political landscape across Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Let’s be clear, over the last 100 years the epic social, economic and technological changes made by the Labour Party across Britain would not have been possible without our landmark partnership with Trade Unions.

I have been become increasingly frustrated in recent months, by the complete lack of understanding of how the current Electoral College works, and in some cases, the deliberate misinformation distributed to assist with the campaign for OMOV to be used in Leadership and Deputy Leadership Elections in Wales.

Firstly the sections of the Electoral College reflect the fact that we are a movement and not a club.

An Electoral College is designed to ensure that no one section of the Electoral College can dictate to the others, hence an equal weighting of each section at a third 33.3%, which provides for a majority consensus across the movement.

Currently, the three sections are:

1. Members of the Labour Party

2. Elected representatives

3. Trade Unions (who formed this Party), Co-operative Party, and Socialist Societies.

In each Section of the Electoral College, One Member One Vote is used to determine which candidate receives the support of the organisation being balloted, and not on the basis of Trade Unions using a block vote.

Under the proposed reforms we would see the end of the second college so that Members would receive 50% of the vote and Trade Unions, the Co-op Party and Socialist societies would receive the other 50%, with each organisation using OMOV to determine which candidate receives the support of the organisation being balloted

Secondly, a small section of the party argues that OMOV is the only fair method. I’m afraid I don’t agree.

This argument fails to understand the reasons why the Labour & Trade Union was formed, it fails to take into account that the Trade Unions didn’t join the Labour Party, we formed it to give organised labour a political voice within a Party.

OMOV undermines the fact that we are a collective organisation that historically has worked towards outcomes that have been delivered by the majority across all of the sections of the movement.

For example, there are approximately 25,000 Labour Party Members in one section. In the TU, Co-Op and Socialist Society Section there will be approximately 250,000 affiliated members having over balloted i.e. over 10 times more than in the members' section. The GMB alone will ballot far in excess of the number of individual members of the Party.

A reformed electoral college will recognise the important role that party members play in organising and participating as the lifeblood of the party by campaigning debating and serving in elected positions by giving them the largest share of the college.

To me, it seems bizarre to have Trade Union members and Socialist societies dwarfing the say of party members who live the party day in day out.

It is also telling in my opinion that the overwhelming majority of our Sister Unions; UNISON, USDAW, CWU, ASLEF and Community all agree that the best way for the party to proceed is through an amended electoral college.

The Trade Unions resisted the move to OMOV when Tony Blair and Progress suggested it, and the Trade Unions will continue to resist the move when a hard line element within Welsh Labour Grassroots and Momentum make similar moves.

Thirdly, I hear those in favour of OMOV say “some people have more than one vote”. That is true, but only if they are fully paid up members of more than one organisation.

By way of example, I have been a member of the Labour Party for nearly four decades paying the full rate, not a subsidised rate, of membership. This entitles me to one vote in the Members Section.

I am also a long-standing, fully paid-up member of the GMB, and have been for 37 years. The GMB are to ballot on a one member one vote basis, nearly twice as many affiliated members than are in the individual Members section of the Electoral College, but this will only entitle us to approximately 10% of the 33.3% in this section, as the other Unions, Co-op and Socialist Societies make up the rest based on size of membership.

It’s important that members have the ability to be democratically represented within their organisation, It can’t be right that someone loses representation in one organisation because they are represented in another.

However, it’s clear that the current situation where members have several votes cannot continue.

Under the smart proposals for a reformed electoral college, by utilising data sharing agreements with Socialist societies and Trade unions we would be able to identify members and limit them to receive only one vote in each section. Whilst this doesn’t eliminate the democratic deficit that we would undoubtedly see under OMOV, as a compromise it will mean that we limit it, so that in the majority of cases members would be able to receive their democratic right as trade unionists and Party member.

It also encourages members to join a Trade Union, something in my belief every worker across the country should do, and bind all affiliated Trade Unions closer to Labour Party members.

Finally, there are elements within the Party that would seek to remove the Trade Unions involvement and voice from within the Party they formed to give organised Labour a political voice. This principle will not be ceded without a fight.

We didn’t cede over the last 20 years when people from the right of our party tried to weaken trade union influence, and by hell, we won’t be ceding now when elements of the hard left try the same.

Whilst certain groups and organisations would rather take their lead from London and Westminster in recent weeks we believe that the movement in Wales is best placed to chart our own course and we should find a way forward that unites all sections of the movement.

As someone once said, “Devolution will mean finding Welsh Solutions to Welsh problems”.

Our history has shown that one size does not fit all and that in Wales we need to have the confidence to adopt solutions that unite our party not divide it.

Tomorrow is a crossroads in the history of Welsh Labour. Trade Unions have been fighting for the Soul of the Labour Movement for over 150 years. We will fight, fight and fight again for our values in the party we founded.

Mike Payne is GMB Wales and South West’s Political officer and last year served as chair of Welsh Labour.



The Fabian Society in Wales

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