At least 45 Labour MP/MEPs don’t seem to understand electoral systems

Pete has an entry covering the outcome of the British Labour party leadership election result but I’m fascinated by senior members of that party who voted but decided to limit the full potential of their ballot. 45 Labour MP/MEPs declined to use their transferable vote option, many others didn’t use it in full. That may indicate absolute commitment to their preferred candidate, it also seems to indicate an element of political naivety. Those of us with an interest in Irish politics are fully aware of just how important transferred votes can be and will often look well beyond our preferred option to making an impact on the vote further down a ballot paper– a focus on ensuring the least worst outcome. This idea seems alien to a sizeable number of people in Labour’s top tier – they plumped (gave a No.1 and stopped) while many more limited their transfer to a 2nd choice.

I’m at a loss to explain how an MP or MEP could have an opinion on who should lead Labour but have no opinion on who would be the next best placed to lead if their preferred candidate fails to be selected.

Of the candidates only the Millibrands gave 2nd preferences and then only to their sibling, the rest plumped – that is understandable. Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader, and Gordon Brown didn’t cast a vote – that is understandable but 45 senior members of Labour decided to cast a No.1 vote and then ceased to have an opinion:


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  • DeValery had a canary

    Err – no.

    How many of these votes could have transferred? If you voted for one of the Miliband’s then you knew your vote wouldn’t transfer. So why bother?

  • Mark McGregor

    Well, err – yes. It’s an election and its not over until the votes are counted. And a lot of the plumpers weren’t just Millibrand supporters. Same goes with those that only went to 2, 3 or 4. You shouldn’t stop having an opinion on leader of your own party.

  • Mark McGregor

    Should also say that in an election with a 1% difference in final result transfers did play a major role.

    From the list, not only the plumpers but those that stopped at 2 or 3 limited the potential of their voice.

  • It’s called “plumping”, and it’s a fair technique under a proper transferable-vote. As I recall the DUP used to endorse it.

    At worst, it’s a variant on “none-of-almost-the-above”.

    However, a fair order of priority in the Leadership poll would have been Miliband E, Balls, Miliband D, Burnham, Abbott. To be honest, I think that was my own ballot. Yet, we all knew the final wash-up would involve just the two Milibands. So, perhaps it was just economy of effort.

    On the other hand, the Brits lack the sophistication of the Irish in these matters. I still recall the simple delight, back in 1965, of a voter for the 18th Dáil in Longford-Westmeath. Statesmanlike he supped his pint and proudly recounted giving Sean MacEoin his tenth preference. [Younger readers may need to know that General Sean MacEoin had been a fixture since the Second Dáil.]

  • RJL

    Please note Dakin did use all his preferences.Also, other than Cooper, all plumped for either Miliband. Quite save to say they felt their choice would be in the final. As for Cooper, well its understandable that she only voted for her husband. Bit of a non-story really…

  • the old Manxman


    It was pretty clear from early on that the two Miliband brothers were going to be the main candidates. There had been various polls: of the public; and more important two good ones from YouGov of Labour members and “affiliates” They all showed that, even with transfers, it was a two horse race. Busloads of people weren’t going to turn up from Fermanagh at the last minute and surprise everyone.

    Remember as well that the MPs and MEPs who voted, know that their full vote will be published, so they can use their votes to send messages to others, including the eventual winner.

    Now if you look at the MP and MEP votes shown here:

    you’ll see that nearly everyone who voted, voted for at least one of the Milibrothers. Any further preference after that would be purely academic – the transfer isn’t going to go any further.

    If you understand that, then any further preferences are just going to upset somebody. better to leave it blank and not make an enemy.

    There were only four exceptions. One candidate, Diane Abbott and wannabe left-wing candidate, John MacDonnell, just gave Diane their first preference and nothing else. You could argue they were being selfless, as being seen to get a vote from either, would not be the best for a Milibrother’s image.

    And another candidate, Ed Balls and his wife, Yvette Cooper, gave Mr Balls ‘1’ and nothing else. No doubt to avoid choosing the losing brother, and so still having a shot at being Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever won. (This sentence makes sense with either husband or wife as the subject)

    The Milibands sweetly, if ineffectively, gave each other second preference. And the remaining candidate, Andy Burnham, bless him, voted all the way down the paper.

    (And I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone in Norn Ireland that leaving you last preference blank and filling it are mathematically equivalent*).

    So in actual fact the MPs/MEPs have yet again shown themselves almost as politicly shrewd as the inhabitants of your fair island, though without your advantage of being able to lie through your teeth about how they voted.

    * Unless like me you fill it from the bottom up and put the person you most hate, loath and despise at number 10 or whatever. Then you work your way up, numbering down, through the repulsive; the unpleasant; the mildly nauseous; the merely incompetent; the unknowns; the known unknowns; the OK in a really bad year; the people you could just about send out for chips; the sort of literate; the sort of numerate; the occasionally coherent. Then, if there’s anyone left, you give them number 1.

  • joeCanuck

    Indeed, Malcolm. As I remember, Paisley introduced the word “plumping” into general usage. Mark is likely too young to know/remember.
    As regards the voter perhaps he was from Skibereen and once kept his eye on the Czar.

  • joeCanuck

    I don’t think the busloads from Fermanagh were much of a “surprise”. Commenters here, DR et al, told us they were coming. They were told ” Go east old man”.

  • slug

    According to one piece I read, it would only have taken 6 votes on the MPs/MEPs section to change the outcome, since it had the smallest electorate; so your point is particularly apposite.

  • the old Manxman

    But they would have been a surprise if they turned up in Manchester. Even more so if they knew where they were .

  • Reader

    the old Manxman: Unless like me you fill it from the bottom up and put the person you most hate, loath and despise at number 10 or whatever.
    Risky. With one accidental omission near the start of the process you end up giving a second preference vote to the local loon or spoiling your ballot.

  • Greenflag

    Go east old man”.

    Good one Joe C :))

    So not ‘North to Alaska ‘ for a cup of tea with Mrs Palin ?

  • DC

    Is there any way of avoiding that scenario in NI?

  • the old Manxman

    ” Go east old man”.

    I just want to know how long joeCanuck had been patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity to use that phrase.

  • DeValery had a canary

    Hold on though. How many of these people who stopped transfers stopped with one of the Milibands? As the dogs on the street knew it was between these two stopping there makes perfect sense.

    It’s not an STV election.

  • Reader

    DC: Is there any way of avoiding that scenario in NI?
    Start at 1 instead of 10. Not entirely infallible, but you are likely to get your first few candidates in your preferred order before the accidental omissions and inversions begin.
    The other thing is, if you become aware you have accidentally spoiled your ballot, you can probably ask for a replacement. No doubt there is masses of paperwork!

  • Peter

    Yes, this is a rather silly opening analysis.

    Only four MPs/MEP’s did not have a vote that counted in the final round between the Miliband brothers — candidate Ed Balls and his wife Yvette Cooper and candidate Diane Anbott and her ally John McDonnell. Clearly each of these “bullet votes” was intentional.