Parliament and Politics: Smith seeks to end union vote in MP selection

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Indy Politics
THE LABOUR leader, John Smith, is today expected finally to say that party members alone should choose parliamentary candidates - ending the trade union vote in the selection of MPs.

Sources close to Mr Smith say he will declare himself happy for the option still to be explored of trade unions creating a list of 'registered supporters' who could vote in selections.

But according to one close colleague, he will make clear that what he wants agreed at this October's party conference is straightforward 'one member, one vote' - and that he will campaign for that during the consultation process on internal changes the party will launch today. That will set Mr Smith against many of the big unions, including his own sponsoring union, the GMB, which want to retain a union voice through the registered supporters scheme. A firm declaration in favour of one member, one vote, however, would delight the party's self- styled internal modernisers and its constituency pressure groups who fear a classic Labour 'fudge' is looming over what has become a symbolic decision for the party's future union links.

Even the backers of the registered voter scheme acknowledge that this round of parliamentary selections will have to be undertaken by one member, one vote, because the registered supporters' lists cannot be started between October's conference and 1 January next year when re-selections will begin.

Backers of one member, one vote fear Mr Smith will use that to not openly declare his hand - in the hope that once the system has been used in practice the registered supporters scheme will wither away.

Mr Smith is expected to make his view clear as Labour's national executive approves a consultation document offering a range of options for the future union link over MPs' selection, the leadership election and at party conference.

All the options for party conference would retain a strong union voice, with at least 50 per cent of the votes, although they would no longer be cast as a block vote.

Roy Hattersley, the former deputy leader, called for an end to the union vote at conference and the abandonment of clause IV - the constitutional commitment to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, which he said no Labour leader had believed in for 70 years.

John Prescott, the party's transport spokesman, flatly rejected that, saying that without the trade unions and a role for public ownership Labour would merely be a social democratic party - 'and the SDP showed that was not a successful formula'. Mr Hattersley's conversion, he said, was remarkable as when in the Shadow Cabinet he had argued for public ownership of the banks.