Boost for Ed Miliband as union members support his 'opt-in' reforms of Labour-union relations

New poll shows ordinary workers want Labour leader to go further

Ed Miliband’s plan to recast Labour’s relationship with the trade unions enjoys strong support among ordinary union members, fuelling claims that their leaders are “out of touch” for opposing them.

A YouGov survey for the Labour Uncut blog also suggests that Mr Miliband can reap an electoral benefit if he sticks to his guns and forces through his changes. Some 16 per cent of the public say his reforms make them more likely to vote Labour at the next election, with only 4 per cent saying they are less likely to support the party – a potentially significant boost in a close election.

On the opening day of the TUC  conference on Sunday, union bosses accused the Labour leader of trying  to break the party’s link with its union founders.

Mr Miliband shrugged off warnings that his plan could bankrupt Labour as unions warned that only 10 per cent of their members would actively “opt in” to paying money to the party. At present, they have to “opt out” if they do not wish to support it financially.

Mr Miliband, facing his gravest crisis since becoming Labour leader, is adamant that the case for sweeping reform has been strengthened by the collapse of disciplinary action against members of the Unite union over allegations of vote rigging in the parliamentary-candidate selection process in Falkirk, Scotland.

In an embarrassing climbdown on Friday, Labour cleared Unite of breaking party rules. But Labour insiders suggest this happened only because key witnesses were pressurised to withdraw their allegations of vote rigging, although no such evidence has emerged.

Remarkably, the poll reveals that Mr Miliband’s plan to make trade unionists “opt in” to giving money to the party is backed by 60 per cent of members of unions affiliated to Labour.

A further 10 per cent say Labour should scrap all links with the unions, while 20 per cent oppose the reform. A majority of the public (56 per cent) backs the proposed shake-up.

The survey suggests trade unionists and the general public want Mr Miliband to go further by diluting the unions’ power at the party’s annual conference, on its ruling national executive committee (NEC) and when Labour chooses its leader.

Some 61 per cent of members of Labour-affiliated unions want the unions’ 50 per cent share of the annual conference  vote to be reduced or abolished. A majority (51 per cent) of them wants the electoral college used to choose the party leader to be abolished. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) also say the unions’ allocation of 12 seats on the NEC should be scrapped, with representatives chosen by “one member, one vote”.

Such changes would curb the power of union bosses, many of whom oppose them despite this backing among their own members.

According to YouGov, ordinary union members agree with the public that the unions enjoy too much influence over Labour – another sign that their leaders are out of step with them as they battle to maintain their clout.

A majority of members of affiliated unions (53 per cent) says the unions should have not much or no influence over Labour, a view held by 44 per cent of the public. But  a majority of these trade unionists and the public believes the unions currently enjoy a great deal or fair amount of influence over Labour.

As the debate over the party-union relationship dominated the TUC conference in Bournemouth, Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB, warned that the Miliband plan could end the link. He described it as an idea dreamt up after “a bad night out”. He went on to warn other unions would follow the GMB’s lead after it announced a 90 per cent cut in its affiliation fees to Labour.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, warned that Labour faced an election “meltdown” if it did not “get its act together” and said it should stop washing its “dirty linen in public”.

Meanwhile Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, appealed for Labour and union leaders to “shake hands and move on and start talking about the issues that people are worried about, such as poverty pay, zero-hours contracts and jobs.”

Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, said his union wanted to move on from the controversy. He dismissed suggestions it had influenced the outcome of Labour’s investigation in Falkirk, where he claimed Unite had been “vindicated”.

But a senior Labour source replied:  “No one should be claiming vindication. The Unite-backed candidate in Falkirk has stood down. We now need to move on and press ahead with reforms to mend the link between Labour and the unions so it is fit for the 21st century.”

Addressing the TUC general council dinner on Monday evening  Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, will call for an end to hostilities that can only benefit the Conservatives. “This is a dangerous moment,” she is expected to admit. She acknowledges unions’ concerns about the plans but insists: “The change that Ed is proposing is not to weaken the relationship between Labour and the trade unions – it is to make it a reality.”

The Conservatives are being urged to offer free party membership to all union members. David Skelton, director of the Renewal group aiming to broaden the Tories’ appeal, said: “The fact that union leaders are often out of touch with their members provides an opportunity for Conservatives to appeal to union members over the heads of their leaders.”

YouGov interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,593 adults online between 30 August and 4 September

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss