Lest I be accused of denigrating Jon Cruddas, it has to be said that he has emerged as one of the true victors of the Labour deputy leadership contest. To come third, even if not within the membership college, was a real achievement for a candidate who has never had ministerial experience.
Reading Brown’s speech, he has won at least two other victories: firstly, he has got the Labour Party – and everyone else – talking about housing again. For me this is one of the most important issues that must be tackled over the next few years, and a crucial tool in the battle for intergenerational equity and against the extreme right. Of course, the fact that the Housing Minister since before the stone age happens to be married to Gordon Brown’s representative on Earth does suggest that she is not about to be sacked for failing to make progress on this issue, but we can at least hope she will be moved sideways.
Secondly, his pledge to not accept a ministerial post if elected has resulted in Brown pledging that the new deputy leader will do precisely that, making it analagous to the Lib Dems’ Federal President.
I don’t agree with Cruddas on everything, and certainly some of his statements such as his support for raising the basic rate of income tax were too much in Labour’s comfort zone, but the fact that he has done so well in pushing the party’s internal debate forward is to be congratulated by all of us who believe that politics ought to be more about ideas and less about personality.
One of the most remarkable things about the Labour Party is why it persists with an internal electoral system that has served it so badly. We can all remember the scandalous 2000 selection for a Mayoral candidate when Ken Livingstone won overwhelmingly amongst the membership but was blocked by a combination of the MPs and union block vote. The deputy leadership contest was nearly a repeat of this, albeit less so.
The figures, which someone has now helpfully posted on Wikipedia, tell the full story. In the final round Harman won more than 56% of the membership vote and around 52% of the combined membership and affiliated organisations’ vote. Yet, even assuming all 371 cast their votes, if just 5 MPs or MEPs had given her a lower preference over Johnson, she would have lost. Indeed, Johnson was consistently and comfortably beaten by Benn in the membership college right up to the point until the latter was excluded. We’ll never know, but it is entirely possible that Benn was robbed.
Cruddas’ vote is also interesting. He didn’t do terribly well in the membership college, yet did brilliantly amongst the affiliated organisations (I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the comment from a Cruddasista on LabourHome that their candidate had lost due to the “Soviet” electoral system – if the system was less Soviet, Cruddas would have got less far than he did!). Unlike the Livingstone debacle in 2000, all the unions and other affiliates now ballot their members, yet it is clear that the steer from the union leadership still has a significant influence in a way that CLP support does not. It would be interesting to see what the turnout for this college was: I suspect that it was quite low, indicating that a large number of union members are technically affiliating to Labour (and giving the party cash) while not identifying with the party in any way.
What we’re left with is a system that I simply fail to see is justifiable in 2007. The fact that the MPs and MEPs get a whole third of the vote to themselves is appalling, especially when you consider that they already get to pick the shortlist and get to vote in both the other colleges as well. The affiliates’ college is easier to justify, but even then it leads to a situation whereby the number of times an individual gets to vote is only limited by the size of his bank balance. Instead of this current system of one-member-one-third-of-a-vote (or alternatively one-member-however-many-votes-one-can-afford), why not simply aggregate the memberships of all the affiliate organisations and members together? If the trade union-Labour link is so vital, this should be a no-brainer. But then, the voice of the individual trade union member has always been a low priority for both the Labour Party and the trade union leadership themseles. Why else are they currently embarking on this mad rush for mergers and acquisitions?