FAR-REACHING reforms that change Labour’s historic links with trade unions were backed by 86 per cent to 14 per cent at a special conference.
Most speakers at the London meeting praised the changes to the party’s structures that were put forward by Ed Miliband following controversy over Unite’s involvement in the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk last year.
The Labour leader insisted the biggest transfer of power in its history would help build a strong party that would help make the voices of working people “louder”.
He said Labour members had demonstrated they had the “courage to change” after the special conference in London backed the reform, that will mean union members have to opt in to party membership rather than be automatically affiliated.
Miliband said he had taken a “big risk” last July when he proposed the reforms following the row that saw the police called into investigate the Falkirk claims. He told delegates that some people in Britain felt that Labour had lost touch with them, adding: “These changes are designed to ensure that this party never loses touch again”.
Miliband said: “I did not believe we could face up to the challenges the country faced if we didn’t face up to the challenges faced by our party.”
Unite boss Len McCluskey said his members would “rise to the challenge” of the change that will see the electoral college, that gives unions, party members and MPs/MEPs a third of the votes each, replaced with one member one vote for party leadership
McCluskey told the conference the reform “starts to take us down the road of involving more trade unionists in the business of the party”.
However, he defended Stevie Deans, the union convenor who resigned from his job at the Grangemouth refinery after the row over the Labour Party selection process, and said the changes vindicated Unite.
There was strong support at the conference for reforms that were put forward following claims that Unite had attempted to rig the selection in Falkirk to ensure its preferred candidate Karie Murphy was selected.
Deans and Murphy were both suspended as part of Labour’s investigation into the allegation, but both were readmitted to the party after no wrongdoing was found by the party’s inquiry.
Miliband said he wanted to “nail the myth” that the reforms would weaken Labour’s ties with working people, as he believed the changes would attract thousands of new supporters to the party.
He said: “I want to hear the voices of working people to be heard louder in our party than ever before and in the 21st century not everyone wants to be a member of a political party.”
Elizabeth Smith, the widow of the former Labour leader John Smith, said that Miliband’s reforms of the party’s trade union link is “completing” what her husband started more than 20 years ago.