By Matthew Barrett
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Will Ed Miliband open up Labour's leadership elections to the public? Not quite. Mr Miliband has tabled proposals at a meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee to create "tens of thousands" of "registered supporters" who will be eligible to vote in future leadership elections. However, the "registered supporters" would be included in the part of Labour's electoral college which includes the unions and affiliated socialist societies (the Fabian Society, Christian Socialist Movement, Labour Students, etc), which means – on the face of it – the unions’ share of the leadership votes will be cut.
Contrary to how this news might be reported, the proposal is modest and does not mean ordinary folk will really be able to influence elections. The reality is that non-party members have always been able to vote – the affiliated societies section can include non-members, and the trade unions section already includes plenty of non-Labour members. For example, members and supporters of the Conservatives, who were also union members, were allowed a vote in last year's Labour leadership election.
The second reason why this reform is not really radical is that putting the "registered supporters" in the third of the electoral college that includes union members, Ed Miliband is diluting the union vote to some degree, but not enough to sway a leadership election. Therefore, the unions will still dominate their part of the leadership vote. As the FT's Jim Pickard says, "Miliband’s team suggest that the figure will be “tens of thousands”. Perhaps. But simple maths would suggest that even a hundred thousand would only partially dilute the power of union members."
Finally, who would want to be a "registered supporter"? Is it going to be the long-time Labour voters whose views are generally ignored by the leadership – the Gillian Duffy type of Labour voter? That's unlikely. More realistic is that the average "registered member" will be an activist whose views are not representative of the public at large. This reform is unlikely to change anything much.