Smith seeks to delay an attack on union votes

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JOHN SMITH, now virtually Labour's leader-elect, will oppose an early move to get rid of union votes in the selection of parliamentary candidates at this year's party conference.

Colleagues said yesterday that Mr Smith preferred a more root- and-branch revision of Labour's links with the unions to be approved by next year's party conference. While he favoured an extension of the one-member, one-vote principle, he was against precipitate action dealing only with parliamentary selections.

Instead, it was said that he wanted to produce a constitutional settlement with the unions well ahead of the next general election - and in good time for the next parliamentary selection round - while avoiding a risk of conflict or defeat this year on the issue of parliamentary selections.

Mr Smith is reported to want the constitutional package to cover parliamentary selections, leadership elections and the union block vote at the party conference, among other issues. He has underlined his belief that Labour's future 'must be founded on the clear principle that its major decisions must be taken by its membership on the basis of one-member, one-vote ballots'.

But his desire to avoid trouble at his first conference as leader means Mr Smith could be opposing two moves to have the issue of ending the union vote in selections put this year.

The review group appointed to consider party-union links is thought to contain a majority in favour of the change. Some members plan to argue at its first meeting, later this month, that it should propose the change for this year's conference, but Mr Smith's friends doubt it will go against the new leadership on timing.

Mr Smith is also in danger of being cornered into opposing a resolution to the conference that would, if passed, require the national executive to put the rule changes on selection this year. It is being promoted by the electricians' section of the engineering union, and being backed by some constituency parties. Some on the national executive hope to get the resolution shelved, but the signs so far are that the engineers want to push the issue to a vote.

As for the party conference's make-up, it has already been agreed that the union share should be reduced from 90 per cent of conference votes to 70 per cent from next year. Mr Smith is understood to want further long- term reductions.

On the leadership, he has already said that he wants to get rid of the union vote, currently 40 per cent of the electoral college. He has said that the leadership should be chosen by Labour MPs and rank-and-file party members. If he can get it, it is now understood that he would like the vote split 50 - 50 between the two groups.

Election inquest, page 9