The move is a step towards a sort of open primary where leaders are chosen not just by fully committed members, but by a larger section of the public.
In theory the move is a great one as it opens up the party, arguably making the process of choosing a leader much more democratic. In theory it allows people who are potential Labour voters - or Labour supporters not quite committed enough to get a membership - to decide the future of the party.
But in reality this process is rather risky and could lead to a ‘rouge’ result. Firstly, let’s ignore what has been happening with Jeremy Corbyn. Even without him in the race there would still be a risk of Labour outsiders coming in and choosing the leader that they think would weaken the party’s chances in the general election.
But the surge in Corbyn support has only intensified things. This is not to say that Labour members definitely do not want Corbyn to be leader. That may well be the case. But non Labour supporters can pay their £3 and potentially skew the results one way or another.
When one sees something like this it only gets worse: A Telegraph article from two weeks ago, offers a “handy five-step guide” to “condemn Labour to years in the political wilderness”, a process which involves paying £3 and voting for Corbyn.
In reality, it will be very hard to tell how much these extra supporters are influencing the contest, but it could just make a difference one way or another. In theory it’s a great idea as it encourages people who might be open to voting Labour to get involved in the process. But in reality the system is open to abuse, and what is worse is that the extent of that abuse may not be able to be seen.
One simple solution might have been just to restrict voting to members, thus encouraging new members to join and vote, something which is happening nonetheless. Labour now has a quarter of a million members. However, this issue points to a larger problem. Party membership has declined in general in recent decades. The way people interact with parties has changed, with many people liking them on Facebook or following them on Twitter as ways of showing support. Labour’s idea of a £3 supporter is arguably one way to deal with this problem as it allows for a looser 21st century style involvement in politics, but the system is still open to abuse.
If Jeremy Corbyn wins by a whisker then that could suggest that ‘Conservative’ and ‘hard left’ support could have swung the result. But who knows, Jeremy Corbyn could end up as Labour’s greatest leader, and the party’s greatest Prime Minister yet.
The results of the Labour leadership election are to be announced in September.