18 November 2010

How 'Elected' Is "Your" MP?

The recent Labour leadership results were published on Labour's website including very useful information like this CLP breakdown of the votes.

For instance we can find out from this that the fairly safe Labour seat of Walsall North only had 76 members who voted in the leadership contest (yes just 76) out of a total of 109 members overall. This is a dismal number of people. It is likely that not even this many would turn up to a selection meeting to decide their MP.

This means that if you could persuade around 40 of these Labour members (or recruit 60 new Labour members in Walsall North out of a 65,183 electorate) and get them to back your candidacy, you would very likely be the next MP for Walsall North!! Basically you need the support of less than 0.1% of the electorate in a safe seat like this. In safe seats a party will win whoever is selected as candidate (unless you do something really perverse or stupid).

Nor is this unusual, most safe Labour seats have membership of less than 300 (perversely a lot of safe Tory seats where Labour have no chance have more Labour party members than this). The curious thing about party membership of all parties is that the richer the area, the higher the party membership. Basically only middle class people join political parties. The Tory membership numbers are kept secret (so much for transparent Tories eh?) but the rumour is that the Tory numbers are similar to Labour, so I would imagine it is the same scenario. We are talking less than 0.2% of the electorate decide who our MP is in the 70% of seats that are safe for one party or another.

So not only do we have a rubbish electoral system that distorts who gets into government, we also have selection processes that are devoid of mass public involvement. If only 40 people are selecting our MPs in some areas, think how many are selecting our councillors for wards that are a tenth the size of a constituency. That's right do the math, maybe just 4 people are deciding who YOUR councillor is. Is this doesn't shock you, I don't know what will.

PS, if any Tory or ex-Tory would like to tell me how your selection process works, please leave a comment below.

PPS, An additional point to add would be that, although the party hierachy might want the extra members for the revenue and canvassing etc, they don't really want members who are interested in influencing policies and selecting candidates and crucially this view is shared by a lot of the current active members who don't want 'their' power diluted either. My experience of the Labour party was that although nobody told me to get lost or anything they might as well have done, the meetings were terminally boring and nobody really welcomed new members. My first experience I was just given some leaflets and a street to deliver to.

PPPS, Finally just to belatedly mention that when you think about it, our so called democracy is so weak, political party membership is little more than just councillors, their family and close friends. There are about 450,000 people in political parties in this country and 23,000 councillors, so councillors only need to have 5 family and friends in the party to get selected, charming ain't it?

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