Andy McSmith's Diary: The figures don't add up for Ed Miliband as he bets political capital on reform

Our man in Westminster

Click to follow
Indy Politics

How much are Ed Miliband's planned reforms of the Labour Party-trade union link going to cost? We know what it is going to do for the financial support that pours in from the UK's third biggest union, the GMB, who are reducing their affiliation from £1.2 million a year to £150,000 as from the end of this year. That could be only the beginning.

Ed Miliband talked optimistically in his TUC speech today of pushing individual party membership up to 500,000, about three times its present level, by persuading hundreds of thhousands of working men and women people who pay into union political funds to contribute  directly to the party.

But nobody can know how many will take up the call. The GMB executive did an unscientific calculation, based on returns from the 2010 Labour leadership election. That year, they sent all their 600,000 members ballot papers with a box to tick to confirm that the person voting was a Labour supporter.  About 44,000 voted, but 6,000 votes were invalidated because the box was not ticked, leaving 38,000.

From that figure, the GMB leadership guessed that if they tried hard, they could persuade 50,000 of their members to join the Labour Party individually after the Miliband reforms take effect, compared with 400,000 affiliated members, on the basis of whose alleged existence, the GMB contributes £1.2 million, at £3 a head.

Britain's biggest union, Unite, pays a £3 million a year affiliation fee, on the basis that a million of its 1.4 million are Labour supporters - a most optimistic figure, when no one knows how many Unite members even vote Labour. The union's general secretary, Len McCluskey, has hinted at a 'nightmare scenario' in which affiliation collapses to somewhere like 100,000, costing the Labour Party a cool £2.7 million a year. At other times he has been more upbeat, but even if by some herculean effort they achieve the high estimate of 600,000, Labour still takes a hit of £1.2 million a year.

This money - as others have pointed out - does not simply disappear: it stays in the unions' political funds, and much or all of it will still find its way to parts of the Labour Party; but the party's head office will be losing a very substantial guaranteed income stream.

Labour's former General Secretary Ray Collins is due to report on the implications of the Miliband reforms. The section dealing with their financial impact could be interesting reading.

'Muggie' Thatcher has become union members' cup of tea

Though Margaret Thatcher died this year, aged almost 90, the loathing of her by some trade union activists is undiminished. Staff at the bookstall in the TUC conference centre have reported a brisk trade in mugs costing £8 each with the slogan 'I Still Hate Margaret Thatcher.' The same slogan was on a T-shirt worn by a delegate from the rail  union, the RMT.

However, other delegates direct their anger at more up to date targets. Another mug, also costing £8 is selling even better. On one side it reproduces the famous photograph of 1985 members of Oxford University's elite Bullingdon Club, which included the young David Cameron and Boris Johnson. It has the slogan 'Bollocks to Austerity - Tax the Rich.' Yet another mug, which has also found buyers, depicts a rat and proclaims that “Tories are lower than vermin.”

'Red Ed' was bored stiff too, Rachel

There was a strange riff near the beginning of Ed Miliband's TUC speech, in which he paid tribute to the Earl of Derby, who was three times Prime Minister during the reign of Queen Victoria, and who praised the “immense organisation…(and) almost perfect military discipline” of a trade union march on London. He was, Miliband added, “the man who first legislated to allow trade unions in this country. His real name (was) Edward Stanley - or as he would be called today: Red Ed.”

Yes, yes, he wanted to make a joke around the phrase 'Red Ed'. He also likes paying tribute to the memory of socially conscious Tories from bygone days, such as Derby or Disraeli, so as to draw comparisons with Cameron.  But the Earl of Derby was not the most highly regarded political leader of his age. One of the Cabinets he assembled so full of unrecognisable faces that it was known as the 'Who? Who? Cabinet' - though I don't suppose anyone can see a parallel there with any part of today's Shadow Cabinet. The Earl's final dying words were to declare that he was “bored to utter extinction.” And he never saw Rachel Reeves on Newsnight.

A photograph that attacks good taste

The prize for unutterably bad taste, away from the TUC conference, goes to Fraser's Auctions, a division of Stanley Gibbons, who offer as Lot 196 in an on line auction to be held this Friday “a 10 x 8” colour reproduction photograph of the moment President Bush was informed of the (11 September 2001) terrorist attack on the US while in Florida attending an educational event at Booker Elementary School, inscribed by the President's Chief of Staff Andy Card, quoting himself: “A second plane hit the second Tower. America is under attack! Andy Card.” The reserve price for this trophy is £600.

Impersonating a police officer?

As the TUC General Council held their dinner on Monday night, Malcolm Sinclair, a delegate form the actors' union, Equity, was seated appropriately near to the brothers from the Police Federation. That is the same Malcolm Sinclair known to viewers of the TV series Pie in the Sky as Assistant Chief Constable Freddy Fisher.