I’m not a huge fan of schemes like this, as it seems the path to impact relies upon strategic defection of various implicit norms.
Whether or not political party membership asks one to make some sort of political declaration, the spirit of membership is surely meant for those who sincerely intend to support the politics of the party in question.
I don’t think Labour members (perhaps authors of this post excluded) or leadership would want to sell a vote for their future leader at £4.38 each to anyone willing to fill out an application form—especially to those indifferent or hostile to Labour Party politics. That we can buy one anyway (i.e. sign up then leave a month later) suggests we do so by taking advantage of their good faith: that folks signing up aren’t just doing it to get a vote on the leadership election, that they intend to stick around for a while, that they’ll generally vote for and support Labour, etc.
If this ‘hit and run entryism’ became a common tactic (e.g. suppose ‘tactical tories’ pretended to defect from the Conservatives this month to vote for the Labour candidate the Conservatives wanted to face in the next election) we would see parties act to close this vulnerability (I think the Conservatives did something like this in terms of restricting eligible members to those joining before a certain date for their most recent leadership contest).
I’d also guess that ongoing attempts to ‘game’ this sort of thing is bad for the broader political climate, as (as best as I can tell) a lot of it runs on trust rather than being carefully proofed against canny selectoral tactics (e.g. although all parties state you shouldn’t be a member of more than one at a time, I’m guessing it isn’t that hard to ‘get away with it’). Perhaps leader selection is too important to justly leave to only party members (perhaps there should be ‘open primaries’), but ‘hit and run entryism’ seems very unlikely to drive one towards this, but merely greater barriers to entry for party political participation, and lingering suspicion and mistrust.
I strongly agree with both this specific sentiment and the general attitude that generates sentiments like this.
However, I think it’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to agree with the Labour Party’s current positions, or think that it’s doing a good job, to be a good (honest) member. I think as long as you sincerely wish the party to perform well in elections or have more influence, even if you hope to achieve that by nudging its policy platform or general strategy in a different direction from the current one, then I wouldn’t think you were being entryist or dishonest by joining.
(I feel like this criterion is maybe a bit weak and there should be some ideological essence of the Labour Party that you should agree with before joining, but I’m not sure it would be productive to pin down exactly what it was and I expect it strongly overlaps with “I want the Labour Party to do well” anyway)
For the avoidance of any doubt: don’t be a “hit and run entryist”, this post is not suggesting such a “scheme”. If you’re “indifferent or hostile to Labour Party politics” then I don’t really know why you’d want to be part of the selection, and don’t recommend you try and join as a member.
The post says “You can always cancel your membership (though of course I’d rather you’d stay a member).” That’s not advocating joining just to cancel—it’s saying you’re not bound in if you change your mind.
Forgive me, but your post didn’t exactly avoid any doubt, given:
1) The recommendation in the second paragraph is addressed to everyone regardless of political sympathy:
We believe that, if you’re a UK citizen or have lived in the UK for the last year, you should pay £4.38 to register to vote in the current Labour leadership, so you can help decide 1 of the 2 next candidates for Prime Minister. (My emphasis)
2) Your OP itself gives a few reasons for why those “indifferent or hostile to Labour Party politics” would want to be part of the selection. As you say:
For £4.38, you have a reasonable chance of determining the next candidate PM, and therefore having an impact in the order of billions of pounds. (Your emphasis)
Even a committed conservative should have preferences on “conditional on Labour winning in the next GE, which Labour MP would I prefer as PM?” (/plus the more Machiavellian “who is the candidate I’d most want leading Labour, given I want them to lose to the Conservatives?”).
3) Although the post doesn’t advocate joining just to cancel after voting, noting that one can ‘cancel any time’, alongside the main motivation being offered taking advantage of a time-limited opportunity for impact (and alongside the quoted cost being a single month of membership) makes this strategy not a dazzling feat of implicature (indeed, it would be the EV-maximising option taking the OP’s argument at face value).
Had the post merely used the oncoming selection in Labour to note there is an argument for political party participation similar to voting (i.e. getting a say in the handful of leading political figures); clearly stressed this applied across the political spectrum (and so was more a recommendation that EAs consider this reason to join the party they are politically sympathetic in expectation of voting in future leadership contests, rather than the one which happens to have a leadership contest on now); and strenuously disclaimed any suggestion of hit and run entryism (noting defection for various norms with existing members of the party, membership mechanisms being somewhat based on trust that folks aren’t going to ‘game them’, etc.), I would have no complaints. But it didn’t (although I hope it will), so here we are.
Have included a paragraph up at the top that hopefully adresses (some of?) your concerns. As it says in the paragraph, thanks for your comments!
“Edit: This argument applies across the political spectrum. One of the best arguments for political party participation is similar to voting i.e. getting a say in the handful of leading political figures. We recommend that effective altruists consider this as a reason to join the party they are politically sympathetic towards in expectation of voting in future leadership contests. We’re involved in the Labour Party—and Labour currently has a leadership election with only a week left to register to participate. So this post focuses on that as an example, and with a hope that if you’re Labour-sympathetic you consider registering to participate. We definitely do not suggest registering to participate if you’re not Labour-sympathetic. Don’t be a ‘hit and run entryist’ (Thanks Greg for the comments!).”
Thanks. I think it would be better, given you are recommending joining and remaining in the party, the ‘price’ isn’t quoted as a single month of membership.
One estimate could be the rate of leadership transitions. There have been ~17 in the last century of the Labour party (ignoring acting leaders). Rounding up, this gives an expected vote for every 5 years of membership, and so a price of ~£4.38*60 = ~£250 per leadership contest vote. This looks a much less attractive value proposition to me.
I actually thought the “of course I’d rather you’d stay a member” part was odd, since nowhere in the post up to that point had you said anything to indicate that you supported Labour yourself. The post doesn’t say anything about whether Labour itself is good or bad, or whether that should factor into your decision to join it at all, but in this comment it sounds like those are crucial questions for whether this step is right or not.
I think this is likely too critical of this approach, given that this sort of thing already happens and works. Arguably, the mass-joining of Labour by Momentum is exactly ‘entryism’ of this sort. Such entryism was perhaps in bad faith, but conspicuously (a) this does seem to have changed the UK political landscape and (b) there haven’t been serious attempts to stop it. I don’t have a strong view on this, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable for someone to claim “this happens anyway, it won’t make things worse if we do it, we might as well do it too”.
I agree that this strategy goes against the spirit of party membership, and I’m sympathetic to norm-subscription in a lot of contexts. But are norms a weightier consideration than the reasons for taking up the strategy outlined by OP? While it’s true that these vulnerabilities might eventually be closed, it might still be good to exploit them while they’re open.
To what extent do you think the relatively small numbers of EAs taking advantage of this strategy will sow mistrust? To me it doesn’t seem like it will make a lot of difference, and indeed there might be some positive signalling to be gained if people think that engaging in strategies like this is cool and smart. It might make Labour supporters look more intellectual.
(I upvoted your comment because it was an original contribution made in the spirit of curiosity, even though I doubt its suggestions.)
In my experience watching people comment on political strategies that bring terms like “hacking” to mind, most don’t see it as especially “cool”.
I’ve seen people react skeptically even to ideas like “vote pairing”, which is used to get around the oft-derided kludge of the U.S. electoral college and doesn’t necessarily harm any particular party or interest. Voting in the leadership election if one isn’t an active Labour supporter seems like an effort to dilute the values of active Labour supporters, which I don’t see as very appealing to… active Labour supporters.
I agree with Haydn that this seems like a reasonable thing to do if you actively want Labour to have more influence and you think the cost is worth it (though I don’t have an opinion on the cost/benefit model in the post), but I’m with Greg on this not seeming very ethical if you aren’t a “sincere supporter”.