A refresher, since I didn't understand it myself until recently: the Labour Party is a federal organisation, composed of affiliated trade unions, various think-tanks and talking shops like the Fabian Society, a few special interest groups like Labour Students, and the Parliamentary Labour Party, each of which gets to vote in the Labour leadership election with various weightings and privileges. The ballot is done by ranked preferences. Having seen the results broken down by affiliated organisation from the Labour leadership election, I decided to pull them apart a bit and see what I could learn about what the trade union voice was actually saying. I discovered one thing:
When trade unionist voters in the Labour leadership election were enthusiastic at all, they were enthusiastic for Diane Abbott — not for Ed Miliband and not for anybody else.
More specifically: there is a statistically-significant correlation between the turnout in a given trade union, and the proportion of voters who voted for Diane Abbott first-preference. If we suppose a direct relationship between enthusiasm and turnout, both being a measure of the likelihood that a given trade unionist will vote, then we can say there is a correlation between the Abbott vote and trade unionists' enthusiasm.
Furthermore, the other candidates' results showed no such correlation:
In other words, Diane Abbott, the token, watered-down quasi-left candidate, was the only candidate who got the average trade unionist to care at all about the Labour leadership election. It's worth noting that in no union was turnout higher than 25% — that was in ASLEF, the train drivers' union that endorsed Diane Abbott based on her call for re-nationalisation of British railways.
I am inclined to analyse the low overall turnout figures (only 7.5% of eligible trade unionists returned a valid ballot paper) as endorsement of the Socialist Party's position that Labour no longer represents a welcoming home for trade unionists, but rather that trade unions' shackling to that shambling corpse is purely bureaucratic inertia. The vast majority of trade unionists don't feel like the Labour leadership has any meaning for them, so they don't vote at all. Unfortunately, we don't have the results from a McDonnell candidacy to test our hypothesis, and in all likelihood we never will.
Both before and after the election, Ed Miliband was being called, and himself took on the title of, the "trade union candidate", thanks to endorsements from Unite, Unison and the GMB. Of course, within minutes of being declared winner of the leadership election he repudiated any left credentials he may have accidentally picked up. And of course we shouldn't have expected any less; the next election for Ed Miliband is a general election, and in the absence of a mass socialist alternative most people trying to vote their class will vote Labour by mistake as the great Wankel engine of British party politics shudders around another cycle. But Ed Miliband's defection is no defection; the data says he never actually had the support of the workers in the first place. If Ed Miliband was anything, he was the candidate of right-wing (GMB, Unison), or at best resigned & opportunist (Unite) trade union leaderships, detached from their members.
The Labour election went ahead without any genuine workers' candidate, resembling as a consequence nothing so much as a high school student council popularity contest. Diane Abbott stood out as a clear least-worst. Although she received scant support overall, of the available choices her politics best matched that of the the trade unionist Labour voter, and, when other variables are screened out, the results of the vote show that the trade unionists voting in the Labour election knew and responded to this.
And let's not forget, much of the trade union movement has no truck with Labour anyway. Only 12 of the 58 unions affiliated to the TUC are affiliated to Labour; major unions like the PCS, my own UCU and the RMT are not only unaffiliated but have stood candidates under the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition banner. The mood for a new, mass workers' party exists, the ground for it to grow is fertile; the trade unions leadership must have the bravery to serve their members and sow the seeds.