I don’t believe the Labour Party administration are rigging the leadership election to keep Jeremy Corbyn from winning. I don’t think that’s what they’re trying to do, and I don’t think they’d succeed in doing it if they tried. I think Jeremy Corbyn’s likely to win: if he loses, it won’t be because of the Labour Party’s purge of voters.
We’ve seen in the US since Bush was awarded the victory in November 2000, that a determined group of people with the power to have hackable e-voting machines built and installed, the power to ensure legal investigations are only used against the opposition, the power to shut down voter registration for the opposition, and of course the power to “cleanse” electoral rolls of voters likely to choose your opponent, can deliver victories for the Republican Party: the outright vote-fixing may be mathematically detectable.
I don’t think that’s what’s happening in the Labour leadership election.
I’m not denying that Labour have completely messed up their own leadership election, due to three entirely unexpected events which affected their planned electoral process.
First, that although the Labour Party was already at its highest-ever level of membership in May 2015 (20,000 people joined the Labour Party just after 7th May), still between 11th May and 12th August 2015, 78,000 more joined the Labour Party, 17,755 of them on the last possible day to register for the Labour leadership election. Nearly a hundred abd fifty thousand people were inspired to register as affiliated members or supporters. Labour were not expecting so large a surge in their leadership electorate. That’s understandable.
Second: the vitriol with which Jeremy Corbyn has been opposed. The Labour Party were not expecting anyone to care very much which of their anodyne candidates won the leadership election. That too is understandable.
Third: some high-profile Tories – Toby Young, Ruth Davidson – who as leader of the Scottish Conservatives should know better than to promote electoral fraud in a party leadership election – and the Torygraph itself – were urging Conservatives to commit electoral fraud:
to register themselves as Labour Party supporters, pay the £3 fee, and vote for Corbyn because, ha ha, if Jeremy Corbyn won that would be terrible for the Labour Party, I mean look at the fella, all beardy and socialist!
Of course the Telegraph reversed itself on this once they realised that Jeremy Corbyn might actually win: but the proposal of electoral fraud was wrong even if Corbyn’s leadership campaign had gone the way of Diane Abbott‘s.
I am a member of an affiliated trade union, and so I could have had a vote in the Labour leadership election if not for joining the Scottish Greens. As I am a member of the Scottish Green Party, I obviously couldn’t vote: no one should try to vote in the leadership elections if they belong to another party.
Labour had reformed their electoral process. Instead of MPs and MEPs having an influence far exceeding their numbers, each MP and MEP have only one vote, just like all the other Labour Party members. Each trade union member who chose to vote had just one vote. And, the Labour Party allowed for the existence of people who had always regarded themselves as “Labour voters” – people who might not be members of the party or of an affiliated trade union, but who had consistently voted Labour in election after election. The £3-supporter vote was clearly intended for Labour voters who weren’t party or union members.
In fairness, I think a person who has registered as a £3-supporter to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and who has no intention of supporting the Labour Party if any other candidate won, is also betraying the principles of a leadership vote: if you’re not prepared to follow the Labour Party even if they elect Liz Kendall, then no, I don’t think you should be registering as a supporter. (That doesn’t mean I agree with the undeclared means the Labour Party have been using to try to find out if people are “really” Labour Party supporters: I don’t.)
Regardless of what foolish MPs like Simon Danczuk are saying, the worst thing possible for the Labour Party – and most MPs must know it – would be a disputed victory, or another leadership election. Even among those who want to evict Jeremy Corbyn well before 2020, most know that whoever wins, the Labour Party cannot afford to have another leadership election in 2015.
It’s been reported in the Daily Mirror that members of the Shadow Cabinet intend to offer Jeremy Corbyn a deal: put them in control of Labour Party policy, and they will promise not to oust him for eighteen months. True or not, and whether or not Jeremy Corbyn accepts that deal, that suggests that most of the Shadow Cabinet know that they can’t just re-run the leadership election immediately.
Therefore what the Labour Party administration knows they need, is an undisputed victory not open to legal challenge by the three candidates who lost. Whoever wins, must win by an indisputable margin, and no one whose right to vote in the leadership elections could possibly be challenged in court, can be allowed to cast a ballot. They have opted to purge their voters’ list of everyone who might be challenged, knowing – I don’t doubt – that this means they are purging from the rolls many voters who are fully entitled to vote.
Their declared methods of vetting voters may well be in breach of the Data Protection Act. If so, individual voters could challenge them – or even all of the purged voters in a class action case – but this is unlikely to affect the result of the election.
The purge of other-party supporters from the Labour Party electoral rolls began before Corbyn’s candidacy was declared but has attracted more attention in the media (and by Steve Bell) due to the three unexpected factors mentioned earlier: the surge in numbers, the vitriol against Corbyn, and the promotion of electoral fraud by high-profile Tories.
I do not believe that the Labour Party’s administration is purposefully purging the rolls of people likely to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I think they are trying to clear out people whose votes could be legally challenged to ensure that whoever wins, their victory is clear and definite.
Stephen Bush noted in the New Statesman on 20th August:
The reasons range from the clear-cut – Marcus Chown, who has been expelled today, is on the ruling executive of the National Health Action party – to the ridiculous – one member was reported for failing to attend the CLP barbecue, in a complaint that has not been upheld but at this stage in the process, all that happens is that staffers gather the evidence, and pass it up the NEC, who ultimately decides whether or not to expel voters from the rolls. (Liking or following another political party on Facebook is not grounds for dismissal – tweeting or posting about joining another political party after the election is.)
But the numbers tell the tale.
The total electorate as of 26th August 2015 was 553,954 – down nearly 50,000 from their original estimate by number of ballots, many of which turned out to have been sent in duplicate to people who had registered as £3-supporters but who were also affiliate members of a trade union. Reports vary of how many of those have since been barred from voting: some speculating up to a hundred thousand people by 10th September when the polls close for the leadership elections. Actual data is reported to be of a range between four to ten thousand.
While the voting deadline is not til 10th September, polls strongly suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is the favourite both of the Labour Party membership – he got more constituency Labour Party preferences than any other candidate – and of the registered supporters and affiliate members. He’s not the favourite of the Parliamentary Labour Party, but each MP only has one vote: they can’t override the will of their membership and affiliated/registered supporters.
To win in the first round, Jeremy Corbyn has to get a majority of first-preference votes: about 277,000. If, as polls suggest, he’s also got a majority in second-preference votes, then whether he wins in the first round or the last, he’s still a clear winner. To affect that result would take considerably more than eliminating 1.8% of the vote (10,000 voters).
Jeremy Corbyn may not win. I think the various attempts to smear him politically have failed so far because they have either been so trivial or so over-the-top or so outright dishonest, that people are reacting to them with amusement more than anything else.
But it’s the 553,954 (or perhaps -1.8%) who will decide whether Jeremy Corbyn is a leader or they’d rather have one of the other three.
I know which one I want them to choose: the only one who’s likely to get me to vote Labour in 2020.