LABOUR leader Ed Miliband will today tell the Trades Union Congress he is “absolutely determined” to reform the relationship between union members and the party.
Mr Miliband will proclaim three million Labour-affiliate members are “members of the party in name only” in his speech at the conference in Bournemouth.
The Labour leader will say the “vast majority” of these men and women – who are automatically affiliated with the party because they are members of Labour-supporting unions – “play no role in our party”.
Describing the proposed change as a “historic opportunity”, he will instead set a target of more than doubling the party’s full, signed-up membership to 500,000.
Today will be the first time Mr Miliband has come face-to-face with activists since unveiling controversial reforms to union funding of the party.
He is expected to be asked about his plans for union members to opt in to Labour affiliation rather than being automatically affiliated – a move which has already led to the GMB cutting its funding of the party by over £1 million.
His speech also comes against a background of demands that senior members of the party apologise for the way they handled allegations Unite, Labour’s biggest union sponsor, tried to fix the selection of a candidate to replace Eric Joyce in Falkirk.
An unpublished internal Labour report has cleared Unite and its general-secretary Len McCluskey, although it is understood that critical evidence was not presented.
The allegations led Mr Miliband to announce reforms that would mean union members would no longer automatically become members of the party, threatening £9m of funding.
Union leaders have used the TUC conference to warn of Labour suffering “an Australia-like meltdown”, similar to the defeat suffered by its sister party, if he does not drop reforms.
But in his speech, Mr Miliband will point out that it is the unions themselves who have complained “politics is detached from the lives of working people” and that his reforms will connect them.
He will also use his speech to revive his “One Nation” vision first presented at the party conference in Manchester last year and argue that the reforms are necessary to bring it about.
He will say: “I am a One Nation politician. And One Nation is about governing for the whole country. To do this we are going have to build a new kind of Labour Party. A new relationship with individual trade union members.”
Attacking the current relationship with the unions, he will add: “Some people ask, ‘What’s wrong with the current system?’ Let me tell them, we have three million working men and women affiliated to our party. But the vast majority play no role in our party. They are affiliated in name only.
“That wasn’t the vision of the founders of our party. I don’t think it’s your vision, either. And it’s certainly not my vision.”
Mr Miliband has set himself a target of more than doubling the size of full membership from 200,000 to 500,000. However, his strategy would still see the loss of 2.7m members and £8m.
At the conference yesterday, new TUC general-secretary Frances O’Grady launched a scathing attack on the UK government for trying to “divide” the country, likening David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg to characters from The Wizard of Oz.
She said: “When it comes to any vision for a new economy, they are the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion – no brain, no heart and no courage.”