Parliament and Politics: Smith prepares for voting reform: Labour leader sets out battle lines on one member, one vote

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Indy Politics
JOHN SMITH drew the battle lines for the Labour Party's division from the unions, expected during this year's annual conference, when he stated yesterday that one member, one vote (OMOV) was 'the only option'.

Speaking in Glasgow at the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Labour leader said that as the party 'was calling for democratic reform in our country we must also look to the constitution of our party'.

It is an area of debate Mr Smith still clearly feels uncomfortable with, devoting only one page of a 12-page speech to the likely change in Labour's formal relationship with the unions.

Behind his hesitancy will be the recognition that ending the current system - where unions affiliated to a constituency party still have a block-vote say in the selection of parliamentary candidates - is not a foregone conclusion. Mr Smith told the congress: 'There is at present no existing system for selecting parliamentary candidates and we must have one in place by October this year.'

What he meant was that there is no uniformity to the selection process. One member, one vote, while it has support from the AEEU and USDAW, is opposed by the GMB and the T&G (a large enough alliance to offer resistance to Mr Smith's plans). Other unions, such as the NUM, favour leaving things as they are.

While one member, one vote represents a divorce, Mr Smith did not offer his views on the proposal of some unions that members registered their votes in a constituency party. The party conference in October will provide a larger debate.

In the meantime, the Labour leader made it clear that he wanted the separation to be on amicable terms. 'The vital links between the party and the trade unions - an historic but still crucially relevant partnership of jointly shared ideals and an ambitious common purpose - must not only be maintained but constantly renewed and reinvigorated,' Mr Smith said.

He also called on the Prime Minister to intervene in the long-running Timex dispute, where 340 of the workforce at the Dundee factory were dismissed at the beginning of the year. John Major could help end the dispute by 'referring it without delay to the conciliation and arbitration services of Acas'.

The conference unanimously backed an emergency resolution from the engineers' and electricians' union, the AEEU, for the whole of the Labour movement to support the sacked Timex workers, both 'morally and financially'.

In an old-fashioned, blood- and-thunder speech which drew the day's loudest applause, Jimmy Airlie, of the AEEU, called on the trade union movement to 'flood Dundee in a rally on 15 May with thousands of demonstrators'. He reinforced the AEEU's position that any discussions with Timex over a solution to the dispute could only take place if the sacked workforce were taken back.

The conference continues until Friday.