Labour logo.
Labour logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I generally avoid politics because my job needs me to stay politically neutral. However the Labour leadership election isn’t just politics, it’s also about voter engagement.

Unlike all the previous party leadership races I’ve watched, this labour leadership election is different. In the wake of their electoral defeat the Labour Party are trying to engage voters to choose the next Labour leadership team. This is a bold move, which hasn’t been without its controversy.

People have alleged that hard left groups have registered to vote, and others that Tories have done the same. Both allegations have been used to justify the support for Jeremy Corbyn. The former group are seen as true believers in socialism and the latter in an attempt to make Labour unelectable. Personally I doubt that either group can get enough support from the 610,000 eligible voters in the Labour leadership election to make a noticeable difference to the outcome.

Voter Engagement

English: Popular vote by party in UK in genera...
English: Popular vote by party in UK in general elections, 1832-2005. ‪(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The key message for me though is the willingness of the Labour leadership to engage with voters. Admittedly 610,000 people is only a small proportion of the 46 million voters in the UK (9.3 million of whom voted Labour at the General Election, out of 30 million actual voters).

However unlike any other major UK party the Labour party have opened up their vote for the next Labour leadership team not just to card carrying members, but also to anyone that wanted to make a £3 donation that would cover the cost of their involvement. This is a pretty radical step.


I’m a floating voter, I carefully consider who to vote for each time there is an election. I try to find the candidate that best fits what I think are the interests of the UK as well as the area that I live in. I have yet to ever vote for someone who became an MP. More often than not in the six general elections that I have been eligible to vote in I have spoiled my vote.

So I paid the Labour Party £3 and I have followed the Labour leadership debates. I’d have done the same for any of the other UK wide parties that could be in the next government.  I have direct personal experience of some candidates from when they were Ministers for the department that I worked in or were on Select Committees that quizzed Ministers that I briefed.

All that said, I still don’t know what my order of preference for them is.

Labour Leadership Criteria

So the key things that I think a major party leader needs are:
– an ability to unify the party around a coherent message
– a compelling vision for the electorate at large
– personal credibility with the party supporters

James Keir Hardie was an early democratic soci...
James Keir Hardie was an early democratic socialist, who founded the Independent Labour Party in Great Britain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing any major party needs is a leader that actually leads them. This sounds obvious, but there have been precious few over the last few decades. Most of the party leaders in the three larger UK parties have at least two of the three going for them.

Voters don’t like parties that are full of infighting. It decreases confidence that they will carry through on their promises. After all, a leader that cannot control the members of their party can’t be trusted to deliver in government.

Regardless of how well we think the party is being lead, if we don’t like the policies or dont understand the key values of the party then we probably aren’t going to vote for it. There needs to be some self-interest for the voter here too. What will the party do for me and the country if I vote for them?

Lastly, will the party faithful turn out to campaign and persuade the floaters to go out and vote? The leader needs to inspire enough respect with the core of the party. These are the ordinary members who stuff envelopes, knock doors, put up posters, speak to voters and drive old people to the polling station. If they aren’t engaged the rest is irrelevant. Not enough people will be influenced in the direct personal way that makes them actually go out and vote.

Labour Leadership Candidates

Of the four current candidates for Labour leadership I am not sure that any have all three attributes. Given that neither really does David Cameron then perhaps the best thing that Labour supporters can do is pick the candidates in the order that they find easiest to defend against attacks by the Tories. After all, most Labour voters see themself as opposed to the Conservatives.