Ed Miliband has been warned by a former trade union official to get to grips with union influence if he wants labour to have electoral appeal. Kim Howells, a former foreign minister who was a high ranking official in the Welsh miners’ union during the 1984 strike, was reacting to reports about a clash between the Labour leader and the Unite union over the selection of a Labour parliamentary candidate.
Trade unions are traditionally the major source of Labour Party funds, with Unite being the party’s biggest backer, but Mr Howells warned that being the ones who “paid the piper” had often given the unions an unhealthy influence.
“It’s still going on because Labour, almost unlike any other party, finds itself in this extraordinary historical position, which is that a significant part of its funding comes from, what is after all an interest group, one that was there at the very founding of the Labour Party, namely the trade unions,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.
He added: “There are many people within the trade union movement who feel ‘Listen, if we pay the piper we’re going to try and call the tune.’ And it’s the politics of Labour – it’s always been there.”
“That’s absolutely crazy. He (Miliband) has got to face up to it, because this threatens the whole reputation of the Labour Party. The Labour Party has got be seen to be above special interest politics.”
Mr Howells was reacting to reports from Falkirk, where the Labour leadership has suspended the local party because of allegations that Unite has been recruiting unions members to the party and paying their subscriptions to give them a vote in the selection process. Falkirk, a safe Labour seat, is up for grabs because the sitting MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce, has announced that he will not stand at the next election after pleading guilty to assault in a House of Commons bar.