The unions and the leadership election
There's some very informative stuff on the union role in Labour's electoral college in a piece by Patrick Wintour today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/wintour-and-watt/2010/jun/16/jon-cruddas-harrietharman
The scary bit is that only 8% of union levy-payers actually voted in the 2007 deputy leader race.
The whole point of the unions having 33% of the electoral college is that this provides an opportunity for millions of ordinary working people to have a say in choosing Labour's leader. If that right isn't used we lose the democratic mandate and mass input balloting union members should provide.
The Party, the union leaderships and the five candidates' campaigns need to do some serious planning for how that 8% turnout is turned into a 50%+ one.
This means the unions using all the comms tools they have at their disposal to encourage turnout, not just posting out ballots and hoping they come back. It means the candidates using the mass media to reach this mass potential electorate, not just traditional internal Labour channels of communication, and creating campaign teams to get out the vote union-by-union, particularly within major unionised workplaces. And it means the unions thinking about how they can balance a desire to promote the one candidate they want their members to back with creating opportunities for all five to communicate with members so that trade unionists get to make an informed choice, which is more likely to increase turnout than just being bombarded with General Secretary endorsements of the favoured one.
The ballot process is also a one-off chance to get a large number of union members to become full individual members of the Party. This is critically important. The current surge in Party membership is great news - my CLP has grown 30% - nearly 200 extra members - but as CLP Membership Secretary I can see that the addresses of the new members are overwhelmingly in middle class streets and that virtually none of them say they are union members. We need a Party membership that is diverse and includes the voices of ordinary working people. Part of the problem is that our membership fees are far too high for many people to afford but at least this ballot process gives us the chance to ask four million people to join.