The Corbyn conundrum: what price democracy?

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The Corbyn conundrum
This graph shows Labour Party Member numbers, excluding affiliated members and 'supporters', who pay a lower fee.

WHOEVER’S VOTE YOU COUNT, CORBYN WON

Now, here’s an interesting thing. If you look at the statistics in the last election for Labour leader, you will find that Jeremy Corbyn won among fully paid up, existing Party Members. This is the Corbyn conundrum.

If no-one had joined the Party simply in order to vote for him, he would have still beaten the other candidates by a long margin.

Even if you count the new joiners – the £3-ers – and add their votes for the other candidates, but don’t count their votes for Corbyn, he still won. The closest contender, Andy Burnham, received 80,462 votes across the board – Party Members, Registered Supporters and Affiliated Supporters.

Jeremy Corbyn received 121,751 votes just from Party Members.

the Corbyn conundrum

So it’s very confusing, this row over who gets to vote for Corbyn to continue as leader of the Labour Party. Oh, sorry, did I just give away the ending?

The question to which it seems difficult to get a proper answer – given the egregious nature of our media – is whether the ‘£3-ers’ just paid £3, or whether they had to sign up to pay £3 a month.

In which case, for a lot of young people, that’s a serious commitment. Thirty six pounds a year? Hell, yes, if you’re working zero hour contracts and earning the minimum wage for the few hours you do get work.

Who pays what?

Equally puzzling is the question of the more recently signed up. Did they pay an extra £25 in order to get a vote on the leadership this time around? Or did they sign up to pay £25 a month?

Either way, it seems ludicrous. If you’ve signed up and committed a monthly amount to be a member, or an affiliated member, or simply a supporter, and you would have had the right to vote in the ballot six months ago, by what possible twist of logic is the Party now able to demand that you either pay full whack, or you don’t get a vote?

So let’s do a little accounting. If the Labour Party now has 600,000 members, and if they were all paying £25 a month, the Party’s membership income would be – wait for it – £180,000,000!

But in 2014, before the £3-er surge, the Party’s income was £39,570,000. So either a) the number of members is being vastly over-stated, or b) at least half of existing members/supporters were paying a lower amount. The most likely answer is b). Because, if 450,000 members were paying £25 a month, the income would have all but tripled. So a good majority of members were already paying £3 before the Jeremy Corbyn debacle.

And they got to vote last year. So why not this year?

Political parties, eh? The way it’s talked about, you’d think Labour was struggling to collect money, while the Conservatives were coining it in from rich donors.

A healthy bank balance

In fact, Conservative income was £2m+ less than Labour’s in 2014. The gap will have increased even more since the surge from Corbyn-mania. As for donations, there’s not a lot in it. Certainly the Conservatives appear to get a little more than Labour, but not enough to make an issue of. And it makes no difference in the end: Labour’s income is higher than the Conservatives, full stop.

So the Labour Party is on a roll. They’re a long way from their hey-day of one million (full) members just after WW2. But it will be really interesting to see accounts of their income for 2016 – if all the claims are true, and the graph above is accurate. Labour Party income is going to be well over £120m – thereby trouncing Conservative income by a factor of 4+.

If they can’t win an election with that kind of war chest then they definitely need a new leader. But the man who brought this new enthusiasm and phenomenal new income to the Party certainly deserves at least one election cycle, doesn’t he?

Political Party accounts, headline figures, 2014

Donations to political parties 

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