Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Queen of second preference?

Almost exactly five years ago the Westminster village was gripped by the Conservative Leadership election. There was a real sense that the winner of that contest would go on to become Prime Minister, a sense that was proved to be correct. The 2005 Conservative leadership election, won by David Cameron, had an excitement to it that is very much lacking in the current Labour leadership election.

Oddly, as I have said previously, the next leader of the Labour party has a much better chance of becoming PM than David Cameron did in 2005. Despite this, even I, a self confessed political nerd, couldn't bring myself to watch the last televised hustings. I knew what all the candidates would say – it's what they've said in every other such meeting. So why does Labour's contest lack energy?

In the Conservative party, leadership elections go through several rounds before the final vote. The MPs each vote in runoff ballots over a period of several days until only two candidates remain, then the ordinary members of the party choose from those two. It was this successive election process that was exciting in 2005 as it showed the gradual and unexpected rise of David Cameron. Similarly, the primaries and caucuses of the 2008 US presidential election, in which Barack Obama rose to prominence, made that vote all the more exiting.

In Labour's leadership elections however, after the initial nominations, there is only one vote. Also, AV elections are notoriously difficult for pollsters to measure, so there is little interest in the opinion polls. This means it is hard to know what is happening in the country and which candidates are doing well or badly.

All the excitement will come on Saturday 25th September when the result is announced. As described in a previous blog, the tactics of the second preference vote is crucial. The Miliband brothers will most likely top the first round, but after that things may get more interesting. A look at what happened in the 2007 deputy leadership election indicates what AV can produce. Supporters of Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott are not likely to vote for a Miliband for fear it will knock out their candidate in the second round. So to whom will they give their second preference? It will probably be someone who is liked but perceived not to be a threat. Could Diane Abbott be that person?

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