Labour executive backs reforms

JOHN SMITH'S battle to get unions to accept his 'one member, one vote' proposals for Labour democracy looked even more finely balanced last night - despite endorsement of the plans by the party's national executive.

The Labour leader cleared an important hurdle as the NEC backed him by a better-than-hoped-for majority. But the shine of that success contrasted with the decision of the MSF union, potentially crucial to the final outcome, to continue its opposition.

In spite of the 20-7 NEC vote in favour of Mr Smith's proposals, the decision by the executive of the medium-sized MSF not to upset its conference decision against them makes it vital that he brings Unison, the newly-formed public service union, and Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, on side.

While a party spokesman emphasised that the 13-strong majority exceeded the strongest expectations of a few weeks ago, the mood after the three-hour meeting was one of studied restraint. 'I'm gratified there was such strong support,' said Mr Smith. A summer of 'discussion and persuasion' now follows.

'These are new proposals which have not yet been considered by the Labour movement,' Mr Smith said. 'I recommend them . . . and believe that they will greatly strengthen both Labour Party democracy and the links between the Labour Party and the trade unions and their members.'

The seven voting against were representatives from Usdaw, the TGWU, the GMB and GPMU, and Tony Benn, the left-wing MP for Chesterfield.

Dan Duffy, a TGWU representative on the committee, said: 'As far as we're concerned the present proposals will reduce the links and will emasculate the trade union movement.'

Those backing last Wednesday's trade union review group 'consensus' included representatives from Nupe (now part of Unison), TSSA, and AEU.

The review group's decision was the product of a compromise presented by Mr Smith after most unions had rejected the more radical changes he originally proposed. It would give MPs, party members and union members who register as Labour supporters an equal say in elections of the party leader. For parliamentary selections, Mr Smith insists that political levy-paying trade unionists must pay a cut-price party membership fee before being allowed to vote.

The TGWU and the GMB insist in their motions for the party's autumn conference in Brighton that political levy-payers should be included in both processes without more ado.

With MSF now aligned with these two unions, who account for about 18 per cent of the final conference vote, the fate of the Smith plan may turn heavily on the efforts of sympathetic figures such as Tom Sawyer, a Unison deputy general secretary, and Garfield Davies, general secretary of Usdaw. Mr Davies is due to meet his executive today to discuss reconsideration of his union's narrow rejection of Mr Smith's original suggestions. The Unison political committee is also due to reconvene to consider the compromise package.

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