Miliband gears up for a battle with the unions

Labour leader Ed Miliband. Picture: PA
Labour leader Ed Miliband. Picture: PA
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LABOUR leader Ed Miliband will today set himself on a collision course with the trade unions when he demands that their members can no longer be automatically enrolled into the party.

In what Mr Miliband hopes will be his “Clause 4 moment”, he will use a major speech to announce a review by a senior party member to look at how to implement changes to party membership terms.

Critically, that change will mean union members have to opt into party membership, instead of opting out.

He will also introduce primaries to select candidates for the London mayoral race and in some constituencies – although not Falkirk.

These primaries will see candidates selected by people who are full party members, affiliated members and people who have registered as Labour supporters but not as members.

The changes have been forced on Mr Miliband by the damaging revelations in Falkirk where Unite, the biggest trade union in the United Kingdom, tried to influence the selection of a candidate to replace the disgraced MP Eric Joyce in the 2015 election by enrolling people as members of the party without their knowledge.

The Labour leader has referred the issue to the police and yesterday the Tories added two further constituencies – Ilford North and Lewisham Detford – to the police investigation as they ratcheted up the pressure on Mr Miliband.

Labour denied that there were any problems outside Falkirk, despite claims that would-be council candidates were being filtered out if they were not trade union members.

Mr Miliband will say today: “There is no place in our party for bad practices wherever they come from.

“We are the party of the people, not the party of unaccountable power – wherever it lies. And we will always challenge unaccountable power, whoever wields it.”

It was not clear last night how Mr Miliband will enforce the changes if the unions refuse to agree to them, but senior party sources said that there “probably would not need to be a rule change”.

The leader of the opposition appeared to suggest that existing rules might be enough to force unions to comply. However, party insiders admit they will “take a big hit” with £8 million of affiliation fees currently paid each year to the party at risk.

Currently, about three million people have been enrolled, without their consent, to be Labour members with a nominal fee of £3.

But Mr Miliband’s move would mean all affiliate members will have to decide themselves whether they want to join.

If he manages to push the change through, Mr Miliband will dilute the party’s historic link with the unions.

However, he will make it clear that the events in Falkirk have left him with little choice.

He will say: “What we saw in Falkirk is part of the death-throes of the old politics. It is a symbol of what is wrong with politics.”

On the new membership structure, he will add: “We need to do more, not less, to mobilise individual trade union members to be part of our party.

“The problem is not that these ordinary working men and women dominate the Labour Party.

“The problem is that they are not properly part of all that we do.”