A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mass membership of Compass swarms to polls

Compass, the vibrant , pulsating soft-left faction named after a catering out-sourcer (and if you believe the Guardian, setter of the future agenda for British politics), has announced the thrilling results of its internal elections: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=5207

Compass is very keen on lecturing the rest of the Labour Party about internal democracy and membership participation.

I was therefore delighted to note that out of several thousand ballot papers dispatched, a number inflated by sending them to non-members and indeed Compass' opponents, precisely 237 people could be bothered to vote. Presumably this represents Compass' entire active membership: about 0.4 people per CLP. No wonder most people never report seeing one of these rare creatures operating at grassroots level in their local Labour Party.

This enabled people to get onto the Compass Management Committee with as few as eight first preference votes. Chuka Umunna, the man hailed as Britain's answer to Barack Obama by the New Statesman (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2009/01/chuka-umunna-labour-obama) got er... 16 votes. Guardian mega-pundit Neal Lawson topped the poll with 90 votes, equalling the number of readers of his new book campaigning against that great social evil, shopping.

Nice to see all the ex-NUS opponents of Labour transferring to each other just like they did when they were fighting against Labour in student politics.

The election to Compass' Youth Committee was even more of a non-event, with candidates requiring 4.77 votes after transfers to get elected. Noel Hatch topped the poll with 10 votes. Ben Soffa (a name I could swear I had heard connected to another rather more leftwing organisation) got elected with 4.04 votes after transfers. Unless I have misunderstood the rather confusing results sheet, some candidates were so overcome by the experience of participating in this exercise in participatory democracy that they failed to vote for themselves and got zero first preference votes.

Keep up the struggle, comrades, the forces of capitalism tremble in the face of your advancing hordes...


Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

Careful now. For each of your elected positions, how many votes did you receive and what proportion of the electorate did that represent. Let's start with your membership of Hackney North GC, then there would have been a selection meeting for your candidacy in the 2006 Hackney Council election, and so on. Please don't forget Labour First. Oh, I momentarily forgot it's not a membership organisation. It just runs a slate of candidates for the Labour Party NEC among other activities openly and transparently accounted for.

I applaud Compass for running elections and publishing the results promptly. It is a pity the Labour Party NEC and its sub-committees did not follow its example by publishing named votes on all its decisions as a matter of good practice.

8:46 pm, August 26, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Dear Peter

Membership of the GC: not elected - appointed by the Regional Political Officer of Unite/Amicus.

Council election 2006: 1005 votes on a 30% turnout

Council selection 2010: 16 votes for me out of 17 in the room - turnout approx 25% of Chatham Ward members, so a rather higher turnout than Compass got.

Castle Point selection 40 votes out of 70 after transfers on about a 33% turnout.

Castle Point election 2005: 13,917 votes on a 66% turnout

Aldershot selection about 40 votes out of 60 if my memory is correct, was about a 30% turnout.

Aldershot election 2001: 11,391 votes on a 61% turnout

Labour First: invited to get involved by John Spellar in 1996, you are correct it is not a membership organisation

9:15 pm, August 26, 2009

Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

Mmmm.. you say, "Membership of the GC: not elected - appointed by the Regional Political Officer of Unite/Amicus."

So the members of the Unite/Amicus branch affiliated to Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP have NO say in whom their delegate to said CLP is?

10:00 pm, August 26, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


Ex-MSF and ex-TGWU branches elect delegates at branch AGMs. In practice in most branches this means asking for volunteers - contested elections are extremely rare.

In the ex-AEEU all CLP affiliations were dealt with regionally.

According to the TULO handbook, CLP affiliations are also dealt with regionally not at branch level by the GMB.

10:43 pm, August 26, 2009

Blogger Andy said...

Thanks for posting the link to the results Luke, funniest thing I have read in ages, I nearly fell of my chair....

11:33 am, August 27, 2009

Blogger Sunder Katwala said...

as an electoral reformer, I do think the commitment to an exhaustive system of transfers is admirable, but perhaps a bit much given the scale of turnout, etc ... I wonder whether the transfers in a case like this ever make much substantive difference to more than one or two places in an internal election of this type and scale. I am afraid that the Fabian ballot for our EC and for the Young Fabians are on a first-past-the-post basis for 15 EC and 4 EC Local rep posts, partly because it might take several days to organise a transferable count, and would be unlikely to affect more than 1 or 2 places.

Our membership is at an all-time high, but participation in the ballot is about 10%. Perhaps one reason is that, if you don't know candidates personally, there aren't slates or a contest for the overall direction of an organisation (which doesn't take collective positions) and where EC members from different wings of the party do work together in a collective way.I was involved in the Fabians before working for them - attending events,etc - but I didn't tend to vote in the election.

Compass is a different case - it does take collective positions - but unless there is a sharp sense of 'soft Compassite' and 'lefter Compassite' I wonder if the broad direction of Compass would be similar whoever got on.

8:05 am, August 28, 2009

Anonymous Eric Blair said...

Part of it may be that Compass’ turnout figure may be artificially low as a % of their "real" membership, because the 4000 members may be an artificially high claim, pitched there as part of a sense that the membership number is part of their legitimacy.

Perhaps you should ask them for the number of paid-up members, unless they would not give that information out publicly. But Compass members might also be interested in that.

Compass make it very easy to join (and I think quite difficult to leave): for example, they charge a prohibitively high “non-member” ticket price for their annual conference, which is deliberately more than a “ticket plus membership” price. This is among their main recruitment tools.

So the membership is “decided to join” plus “attended the conference”. My impression is that they count a good many lapsed members or once-members in the 4000. That might explain why you say that ballot papers have gone to non-members and opponents, or this could be a data management issue (which I acknowledge can can be difficult for small NGOs) but I think it is reasonable expect they would only be sending ballot papers to people flagged as members in their system.

8:15 am, August 28, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

At least Compass are trying to circulate some new ideas which are going to be needed when Labour loses the next election.

I fail to see how factionalism is going to save Labour from an absolute drubbing next year. New Labour are finished and its a question of where Labour goes to from here. It certainly can't be to continue with more of the same tired, discredited policies.

4:41 pm, August 28, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, you'll be pleased to know that the trend of people in NUS who organised against Labour Students 'discovering' their love for Labour after leaving the national union continues today. What a glorious tradition.

11:43 pm, September 06, 2009

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

When I joined NOLS we spent our time doing charity campaigning. I wanted to do politics. That's why I joined.

I can't defend their overall conclusions, but I can see things (apart from the obvious and ubiquitous opportunism) that make people prefer to be NUS 'independents' despite holding LP membership cards.

Students in the Labour Party need a movement which speaks up for them rather than lecturing down to them. A lot has changed in this respect, but not anywhere near enough.

12:38 am, September 07, 2009


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