Decisive role of trade unions in Ed Miliband’s leadership victory
Press release issued: 12 September 2011
One year on from Ed Miliband’s victory as Labour party leader, new research at the University of Bristol published in the Palgrave Macmillan journal British Politics, explores the extent of trade union involvement in the electoral contest and how they determined the outcome of that electoral contest.
One year on from Ed Miliband’s victory as Labour party leader, new research from the University of Bristol published in the Palgrave Macmillan journal British Politics, explores the extent of trade union involvement in the electoral contest and how they determined the outcome of that electoral contest.
Professor Mark Wickham-Jones and Richard Jobson explain why urgent reform is needed to the electoral college to ensure the legitimacy of the future leadership elections.
Drawing on extensive interviews and party documents, they establish conclusively that:
- Nominations for the leadership were coordinated and streamlined by the trade unions in order to maximise support for Ed Miliband’s candidacy. A senior party official commented: ‘They clearly have a major say, the union leadership, over who they nominate.’
- Trade union nominations had a powerful impact on the distribution of votes. 49 per cent of voters followed their union’s recommendation.
- Unions shaped campaigning by restricting the availability of their membership lists to their nominee. One campaign team member said it was like ‘running a national election campaign with someone deciding who to give the electoral register to … you can’t [campaign], you have no list, you can’t tell, you have no access.’
- Considerable union resources – not factored into the spending limits for the contest - were mobilised behind Ed Miliband. One campaigner argued: ‘It does make a mockery of expense limits…union spending is not monitored or detailed.’
- Some union ballots were distributed in partisan fashion, A senior figure within the party added: ‘The unions only behave that way because the Labour party allows them to…. I would not have let them do that….well, I would have ruled their vote out.’
Three trade unions (GMB, Unison and Unite) had 75 per cent of the votes in the third section of the electoral college that chooses the Labour leader. Each nominated and campaigned for Ed Miliband. GMB and Unite distributed ballots to his advantage. Wickham-Jones and Jobson argue that this turned Ed Miliband’s deficit in two other sections of the college into an extremely narrow victory – a margin of only 0.65 per cent.
Such was the manner of intervention by trade unions that the legitimacy of the electoral college is called into question. Wickham-Jones and Jobson argue that candidates did not have equal and open access to the electorate; the electorate was not fully informed; resources were not equalised; and ballots were not distributed in a neutral manner. They argue that the case for reform of the electoral college is unanswerable.
Most political commentators and scholars concluded that the introduction in 1993 of one member one vote (OMOV) fundamentally reduced the role of affiliates in Labour politics. In contrast Wickham-Jones and Jobson conclude that, having apparently been deprived of influence, trade union elites developed a strategy to re-establish their authority over the Labour Party. In effect, the block vote has been reinvented.