LABOUR IN BRIGHTON: Fresh evidence emerges of deals with unions

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The Independent Online
As Tony Blair unveiled his vision of New Britain, fresh evidence emerged of backstage deals with unions.

In one such accommodation, Mr Blair has agreed not to reduce unions' voting power at policy-making conferences below 50 per cent. In another the leadership has won agreement from politically independent unions to help the Labour Party at the next general election.

Conservative Central Office officials yesterday said they were considering legal action against such unions because they were not lawfully affiliated to Labour.

As part of the deal over the union block vote, most of the party's biggest affiliates agreed to oppose a motion yesterday which could have resulted in their share of voting going back up to 70 per cent.

Instead conference agreed to reduce the share from the present 70 per cent to 50 per cent next year. In return, and in conflict with the wishes of Mr Blair, Labour has agreed not to press for further reductions.

Dan Duffy, speaking on behalf of the party's national executive, said the new system would "settle the matter once and for all". Some senior party sources said the arrangement would last only "for the foreseeable future", although union officials insisted there was no time limit to the deal.

Meanwhile minutes of a private meeting between Tony Blair and senior union officials on 18 September at the House of Commons reveal that unions without constitutional links with the party are prepared to help Labour in key marginal seats.

Principal among the "unaffiliated" organisations to agree to help are the Whitehall unions which hold funds arguably meant to be spent largely on one-off campaigns with political implications rather than on the support of a single party.

One senior civil service union source conceded yesterday that officials' time would be devoted to key seats and that Labour candidates would be provided with political ammunition to fire at Conservative candidates.

The Conservative Party has previously taken court action against the old Nalgo local government union for taking out full page advertisements with a strong pro-Labour flavour. This time however the backing will be less overt and it will be difficult to prove involvement.