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Press interest in History PhD student's research

Decisive role of trade unions in Ed Miliband’s leadership victory

Richard Jobson a History PhD student, garnered a good deal of press attention recently for his joint article with Prof. Mark Wickham-Jones (SPAIS) on Labour's 2010 leadership election - with discussion of it on the BBC's Newsnight and Politics Show as well as in The Times, The Sun, The Guardian, and The Daily Express and a wide array of other political news sources and blogs.

In their article, Richard Jobson and Mark Wickham-Jones ('Reinventing the block vote? Trade unions and the 2010 Labour party leadership election', British Politics, 6:3 (2011), pp. 317-44) explain why urgent reform is needed to Labour's 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.

  • Trade union nominations had a powerful impact on the distribution of votes.

  • Unions shaped campaigning by restricting the availability of their membership lists to their nominee.

  • Considerable union resources – not factored into the spending limits for the contest - were mobilised behind Ed Miliband.

  • Some union ballots were distributed in partisan fashion,

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 Jobson and Wickham-Jones 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.