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Miliband issues challenge to unions' power

Ed Miliband raised the prospect of dramatically watering down the power union barons wield over Labour as he outlined plans yesterday to overhaul the way the party is run. Speaking in Wrexham, the Labour leader hinted that he may try to bypass the heads of Unite, Unison and the GMB, saying he wanted to "reach out" directly to three million nurses, call-centre workers, engineers and shop workers who are affiliated union members.

A shake-up of policymaking at conferences could pave the way for cuts to the union's 50 per cent block vote. Mr Miliband, whose leadership victory was secured with union backing, said policymaking in the 1980s was "thrashed out in locked meeting rooms by a handful of people" – which will be seen as a swipe at the secretive control of the unions.

The comments come after a consultation on Refounding Labour, aimed at putting the party back "in touch" with the public.

The Labour MP Jon Cruddas said Mr Miliband should create a standalone "English Labour" movement to stop patriotism being hijacked by the far right. He said there was "a renewed sense of nationhood and modern patriotism developing" in Scotland and Wales, but the English suffered a crisis of identity, which was exploited by groups such as the English Defence League.

The Liberal Democrat minister Andrew Stunnell will say tomorrow that the coalition must "steal the ground" of groups such as the EDL. Whitehall had in the past "finished up fostering differences" in communities, instead of "celebrating what we have in common".

His promise that the Government will "challenge those who spread hate" will be made at a conference in Leicester.