Labour branches back Smith's vote plan: Grass roots show greatest enthusiasm for reform on candidate selection

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ALMOST two-thirds of Labour Party branches have backed John Smith's 'one member, one vote' proposals for selecting parliamentary candidates, according to returns from a consultation, write Patricia Wynn Davies and Barrie Clement .

But unions opposed to the plan showed little sign of a climbdown. Mr Smith's best hope may be that conference delegations ignore their unions' policies, or further compromise.

The returns show that just over half of Labour constituency parties back either one member one vote in its pure form, or the 'levy-plus' formula now backed by Mr Smith, under which political levy-paying trade unionists could have voting rights on payment of a top-up membership fee. However, at the level of constituency branches, the percentage rises to 61 per cent.

'The results show that the closer you get to individuals the greater is the support for 'one member, one vote',' a source said.

In the case of choosing the leader and deputy leader, the constituencies appear almost evenly split over change; 38 per cent of constituencies favour unions having a one-third block vote, and 37 per cent back Mr Smith's compromise that would allow unions to participate provided political levy-paying members were balloted. But at the policy-making party conference in the autumn, the unions, most of them hostile to Mr Smith's plans, will have 70 per cent of the vote.

Bill Jordan, president of the the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, the biggest party affiliate to back Omov, warned: 'Either the block vote's days are numbered or the Labour Party's days are numbered.'

According to Mr Smith's supporters, the party conference vote will turn heavily on the form of words that will open the way for union delegates to back his recently modified package.'

One union, the MSF manufacturing union, has held a meeting of its party conference delegation, which expressed determination to abide by the union conference decision backing input from union branches at every level in the selection of parliamentary candidates.

Usdaw, the shopworkers union, said that union was committed to opposing one member one vote.

A formula reflecting Mr Smith's position has been drawn up by David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman. It says the 'levy-plus' system should apply in constituency selections, and urges that the additional fee should be seen as separate from unions' links with the party as a whole. It 'should be seen as a local/regional aspect of the links, separating out the levy paid for national participation (which is paid over nationally) from any new formula which would relate to the selection of candidates for parliamentary elections.'

John Prescott, Labour transport spokesman, will today chair the party's union link review committee that will report to the National Executive Committee.