Ed Miliband recasts Labour’s union ties

Labour Leader Ed Miliband during an interview as he travels by train to Stockport, Cheshire. Picture: PA
Labour Leader Ed Miliband during an interview as he travels by train to Stockport, Cheshire. Picture: PA
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ED Miliband has vowed to “let people back into our politics” as he unveiled details of his promised plan to recast ­Labour’s historic link with the trade unions.

The Labour leader said the proposals represented the biggest changes to his party since its formation, “completing 20 years of unfinished business”.

Currently – under Labour’s electoral college system – MPs and MEPs get a third of the votes to select a new leader, unions get a third and party members another third. That system is to be abolished with every party and union member who donates to Labour having an equal say.

From the end of 2014 new members of affiliated unions would have to opt in and pay a £3 fee to the party before they got a vote. MPs would retain the sole right to nominate leadership candidates and the threshold those candidates would need is also to be raised – possibly to 20 per cent of Labour’s MPs. At present, union members pay a levy to the party – decided by their union – unless they opt out.

It will end the system which brought Miliband the leadership with the support of the big unions, narrowly beating his older brother, David.

“These are the biggest changes to who can become involved in the Labour Party since probably its formation,” Miliband said. “They go much further than people expected, but they are designed to open us up and complete unfinished business of the past 20 years. These reforms are about letting people back into our politics, and getting them back into politics.”

Further details are being sent to members of Labour’s ruling national executive ahead of a special conference in London next month, when delegates will decide if the measures will be adopted.

The reforms were drawn up following the controversy last year over the selection of a ­Labour candidate in Falkirk, where the Unite union was accused of signing up members in the constituency to influence the outcome.

Miliband said the changes would be phased-in over a five-year period amid warnings the party could suffer a catastrophic fall-off in annual funding from unions.

The unions will retain their collective voice at conference, with 50 per cent of the vote, as well as their quota of seats on the national executive.

However, Miliband said he would look at the structure of conference in the future.

“I know many people wished I had not embarked on these reforms, but our local parties can come to reflect every diverse walk of life in our communities. That will be a great advance,” he said.

Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: “Ed Miliband promised to loosen the trade union barons’ grip on the Labour Party. But he has been too weak to deliver. Until now, the union barons could buy Labour’s policies and pick Labour’s leader. After these changes, it will be even easier for the union barons to buy Labour’s policies and even easier to pick the leader.”

Labour’s Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson said: “There’s been nobody in my constituency saying to me at this time of economic crisis, what we need is a reorganisation of the Labour Party.”

But former home secretary Alan Johnson MP said he had been arguing for the changes since his time as Communication Workers’ Union general secretary. He said: “This is absolutely the right way to go.”

Last night a poll by Opinium gave Labour a 7 per cent lead, placing Labour on 36 per cent, the Tories on 29 per cent, with UKIP on 17 per cent and Lib Dems on 8 per cent.