NEC elections: STV – myths and reality

The introduction of the ‘Single Transferable Voting’ (STV) system for the election of the National Executive Committee (NEC) is no doubt an attack by Keir Starmer on the left. It makes it impossible for the left to repeat its success in 2018 and win all nine seats chosen by Labour Party members. 

However, STV allows the left to put forward more than nine candidates without any risk of giving advantage to the right – in fact, it is tactically better to vote for more than nine, as this will avoid the risk of inadvertently increasing the vote of the right. On the other hand, there is a real danger of left-wing votes being wasted if left-wing members list only six preferences. More on this below.

Most importantly, STV allows members to rank those candidates who most closely agree with their political principles highest – without any danger of ‘splitting the left vote’. There are a lot of left-wing socialist Labour Party members who are less than impressed with the political platform of the CLGA 6, the way they have been chosen and the political history of some of the six candidates. Our advice actually encourages those comrades to still vote for these 6, even though they might not have done otherwise. Contrary to what some in the orbit of the CLGA say, this is not a display of sectarianism by the LLA, it is exactly the opposite.

A) Election advice summary

The LLA recommends that Labour Party members rank the LLA 6 candidates highest (in whichever order – in fact, it is best to ‘mix it up’ a little). They have shown their commitment to our political platform, which includes the need to openly fight against the witch-hunt in the party and wider society (see all responses here).

  • Roger Silverman
  • Chaudhry Qamer Iqbal
  • Carol Taylor-Spedding
  • Alec Price
  • Ekua Bayunu
  • Steve Maggs
  1. That they then rank as many left wing candidates as they can, referring to a voting guide to be published by LLA (and hopefully other left organisations).
  2. That they also include the CLGA 6 in their preferences.

B) How basic STV works

  1. To get elected, a candidate needs to achieve a threshold of votes called a quota.
    The Quota = total votes divided by the number of seats + 1.
    For 9 seats the quota = 10%
  2. Voters have a single vote. But they rank candidates by preference, so that if their vote is not used on their first preference candidate, the unused vote is transferred to their second preference candidate. The vote will transfer in this way down through the ranked preferences until it is used on a successful candidate – or it is wasted if the voter has not ranked any further preferences.
  3. First preference votes are counted, and if these do not lead to a candidate reaching the quota, then the candidate with fewest votes is eliminated and their votes transfer based on second preferences.
  4. When a candidate’s vote tally exceeds the quota, they are elected, and any votes they receive above the quota are surplus and are transferred based on the voter’s next preference.
  5. This process continues, with candidates being elected leading to surplus votes being transferred, or candidates being eliminated leading to their votes being transferred, until all 9 candidates are elected by reaching the quota (or all but 9 have been eliminated).

C) Some myths and misunderstandings we have come across:  

  • “Voting for only 6 (or 9) candidates is the best tactic to ensure the left wins as many seats as possible.”

The opposite is the case: If you do not rank enough left-wing candidates, you may waste your vote unnecessarily and increase the weight of the right-wing vote.

  1. If you list a small number of candidates, but they are all eliminated and you list no further preferences, then your vote is ‘exhausted’ and is not transferred to anybody else.
  2. If you list only six candidates who all get elected, your vote will not be transferred, but is again ‘exhausted’.

In both cases, your vote could have gone to another left-wing preference, but it instead gets wasted and effectively makes the proportion of the vote for the right larger.

In both cases, your vote could have gone to another left-wing preference, but it instead gets wasted and effectively makes the proportion of the vote for the right larger.

  • “Why are there three left-wing slates standing against each other?”

There are a huge number of left-wing candidates standing in the NEC elections – six of them are promoted by the LLA, six by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA), three by Labour Black Socialists, etc. Many other organisations have made voting recommendations. The good thing about STV is that you can rank as many of them as you like, without any danger of ‘splitting the left vote’. In fact, it is important that voters rank as many left wing candidates as possible, to avoid wasting their vote by failing to transfer to another left candidate (ie, if they did not rank another ‘preference’). In other words, you can vote for the candidates listed on all three slates!

We say: Let’s have at the top some candidates who will fight against the witch-hunt of the left. If they don’t get in, at least the vote will transfer to some other left wingers.

  • “But the votes reduce in value if transferred, which is why we must give first preference to the CLGA 6”

This is false – votes do not reduce in value. Two examples:

1) 20 voters rank exactly the same first and second preferences.
10 votes are required for election.
The first preference gets elected, and there are 10 surplus votes.
Because everybody ranked the same second preference, preference 2 gets all 10 surplus transfers and is elected.
-> No vote has reduced in value. All 20 votes are used at full value.

2) All 20 voters rank the same first preference (Jackie), but 10 rank their next preference for John, and 10 rank their next preference for Jane.
First preference Jackie is elected with 10 votes. There are 10 surplus votes.
Count all 20 second preferences.
10 = Jane and 10 = John
Divide by 2 to get the proportion right for 10 surplus votes. That’s 5 for John and 5 for Jane.
Just because the number of second preferences are divided by 2 does not mean 10 surplus votes lose value. It’s just a calculation to get the proportion right for the next preferences when sharing out the transferred surplus votes.
-> All 20 votes are used at full value, including all 10 surplus votes

Take a look at the Hare-Clark method on the ‘Counting Single Transferable Votes’ Wikipedia page for a more detailed explanation of the above.

  • “But the ‘Stats for Lefties Blog’ says we shouldn’t split the vote”

Some people have been circulating a blogpost from ‘Stats For Lefties’, which claims to show that standing too many candidates cost Fianna Fail seats in Irish general elections. They give two examples but they don’t explain what they think those prove. The first example simply shows that more voters preferred the Labour candidate to the Fianna Fail candidates and so they were elected instead! The second example demonstrates the problem of exhausted ballots – but they try and extend the situation from a three-seat constituency (in an Irish election) to a nine-seat election. It is likely that Labour members will express far more preferences than the average Irish voter. If anything is likely to cause more people to end up with exhausted ballots it is spreading misinformation that they should only rank six!

The most telling thing about the Stats for Lefties blogpost is that the author hasn’t put their name on it, and it doesn’t include any references to articles that support their argument. We have looked and have not been able to find any articles supportive of their argument – though we have found quite a few that rebut it.

D) References:

A longer and more detailed version of this article is available here

Dummett, M. (1997). Principles of Electoral Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press

YouTube video with introductory explanation of STV:


COHAN, A. S.,R. D. MCKINLAY and. MEGHAN. 1975. The used vote and electoral outcomes: the Irish General election of 1973.British Journal of Political Science 5