Labour split as 114 MPs say 'no' to voting reform

Britain's biggest union is in talks to form an "unholy alliance" with rightwing Conservatives to oppose next year's referendum on electoral reform,
The Independent has learnt.

Unite, which has more than 2 million members and is the largest funder of the Labour Party, is expected to throw its weight behind the No2AV campaign early in the New Year. It will commit funding to the campaign and mail anti-AV literature to members.

The decision raises the prospect of union officials campaigning side by side with local Tory party associations to oppose electoral reform. The move also puts Unite at odds with Labour leader Ed Miliband, who announced earlier this month that he would campaign in favour of changing the voting system.

Unite's new general secretary, Len McCluskey, is no friend of the Labour leader. He yelled "rubbish" when Mr Miliband condemned "irresponsible" industrial action in his speech to the Labour party conference. He is also unhappy at Mr Miliband's attempts to distance Labour from its union backers.

The decision to back the No campaign was delayed for the outcome of the union's leadership election. A source close to the negotiations said they expect a deal early in the New Year.

"What we are looking at is Unite pledging both financial support to the No campaign and utilising its database of members."

Unite will be joined by the GMB union in opposing electoral reform. The GMB plans to marshal its 610,000 members and "substantial" sums of money for the campaign.

However the other big union, Unison, which represents the majority of public-sector workers, is likely to abstain from taking sides in the vote. The decision by Unite and the GMB is a boost to the No camp, which yesterday revealed the names of 114 Labour MPs who have pledged their support in May's referendum. These include Hazel Blears, Jim Fitzpatrick, Keith Vaz and Margaret Hodge. In contrast around 60 Labour MPs, including most of the Shadow Cabinet, have said they will campaign for a Yes vote.

The No2Av campaign has spent considerable efforts wooing figures from the left for support and recently announced David Blunkett, John Prescott and John Reid as patrons. But critics claimed that such "beasts from the past" may not be best placed to convince a sceptical electorate.

In contrast, the Yes campaign has adopted a strategy of eschewing political backing – in part due to the unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats in government. "We are quite happy with the No campaign getting the backing of as many politicians as they want," said a source in the Yes campaign.

"This is the first time that the people will be able to say how politicians are elected and we're not too sure they will want to be told by politicians how to think."

They added there was evidence that the electorate were unlikely to engage with the issues until a few weeks before polling. Therefore the campaign, which already has nearly 40 full-time staff, was concentrating on local organisation rather than a full-blown national campaign at this stage.

Labour sources dismissed the Unite move and insisted Ed Miliband would "vigorously" campaign for a Yes vote.

"Just because Unite backed Ed to be leader does not mean that they agree on everything," one source said. "In many ways Unite is a quite Conservative union so this is not unexpected."

A spokesman for Unite said: "Unite has yet to decide its policy on AV, which it will formulate in the New Year."

The AV vote will be on 5 May, the same day as the Holyrood, Welsh Assembly and English local elections.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable