Friday, 27 August 2010

AV is as easy as 1, 2, 3 for Labour members

The Parliamentary Labour Party was famously said to be "the most sophisticated electorate in the world". But one of its new members - Wigan MP Lisa Nandy - is worried that Labour party members, enfranchised in leadership elections over a quarter of a century ago, might not understand how to take part in the vote, asking "is preference voting confusing Labour party members?".

But AV really is as easy as 1, 2, 3 for party members - who seem to have managed to understand this in CLP nominations and Parliamentary candidate selections (though the Wigan selection seemed to run into farcical trouble, according to Tribune's report at the time, which must have been rather trying for both Nandy and her rival candidates, though not apparently because of voting systems).

I presume that the point of the complaint is that Nandy doesn't think AV is fair - and that a Labour leader elected under Alternative Votes may struggle to explain a u-turn on the issue

Nandy undermines that case in claiming that there was a widespread feeling that the 2007 deputy leadership result was unfair.

"there was a feeling of unfairness amongst many members that Jon Cruddas, the popular left-wing candidate at the time, had won more first preferences than other candidates, but didn't win the contest".


Why it would be silly to hold a six-candidate deputy leadership contest on first-past-the-post can be seen quite clearly from looking at the first ballot result.

Jon Cruddas had 17% of party members, 13.9% of MPs and 27% of union members in the first round - giving him just under one in five share (19%) of the overall college vote in the first round of a very even six candidate contest. Harriet Harman had 24% and Hilary Benn 22% of the party members section at that initial stage, but were further behind Cruddas in the affiliated section than he was behind them among party members.

To declare the contest over at that point really would be thought farcical - unless of course it had been a Parliamentary by-election. It turned out that Harriet Harman was the candidate with most support - and over half the party - in the final reckoning.

So 19% of the party (college) wanted Cruddas to win, but given a choice between Alan Johnson, Hariett Harman and Cruddas he narrowly trailed as a strong third choice, with 36% and 34.5% preferring the other candidates to Jon, now on a 30% share. (Harman led Cruddas 42-27 among individual party members at the point when he was eliminated).

So the argument that victory for Harman on 50% was "fairer" than a triumph for Cruddas on 19% was that AV discovered that more of the party preferred her to him for the job. QED?

Of course, the voting would probably have been rather different under first-past-the-post, since members may have had to guess who they thought was in the running to win, rather than simply voting for their favoured candidates.

The tactics of that would have been something to tax party members' brains - voting 1, 2, 3, 4 in a leadership election really isn't.

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