Reform way donations are made or we reject them, Ed Miliband warns trade unions

Labour leader outlined 'massive change' to relationship between party and its main financial backers

Political Editor

Labour will refuse to accept money from individual trade unions unless they reform the way it is given, Ed Miliband warned today.

The Labour leader raised the stakes as he outlined what he called a "massive change" to the relationship between the party and its main financial backers. He said he was determined to "seize the moment" created by the row over alleged malpractice by the Unite in trying to install its favoured candidate as Labour's standard-bearer in Falkirk at the 2015 election.

Mr Miliband wants to implement before the election a change under which union members would "opt in" to paying £3 a year to the party, replacing the present system under which they "opt out" if they do not wish to fund Labour. "No one should be in any doubt about my determination to get this done," he said.

Answering questions after a keynote speech in London, Mr Miliband hinted strongly that Labour would turn down the unions' money unless their affiliation fees, which total £8.2m annually, were collected in the way he proposes. He pointed out that it was "a two-way relationship" in which unions decide whether to affiliate members to the party - and Labour decides whether to accept their money.

However, Tory officials dismissed this threat as empty. They warned that the unions would merely hold back part of the money they now pay in affiliation fees and then hand it over as a separate donation in the run-up to a general election, when unions traditionally give Labour millions of pounds. But Labour aides replied that Mr Miliband supported reforms to funding of all parties including a £10,000 cap on donations, which would include one-off union gifts.

The Labour leader hopes to secure his reform by reaching a consensus with unions. Lord (Ray) Collins, a former party general secretary and ex-Unite official, will head a review. It will also consider the "wider implications," such as the unions' 50 per cent share of the votes at Labour's annual conference and their 33 per cent share in the electoral college which chooses the party leader. Both could be vulnerable in the medium term if the unions persuade only a small proportion of their 3m affiliated members to "opt in" to funding Labour.

Mr Miliband won the backing of Tony Blair, who earlier praised him for what he called "a real act of leadership." The former Prime Minister admitted that he should have made the same reform when he was party leader, saying: "I think this is a defining moment, and I think it's bold and it's strong." Mr Blair said the change was important for Labour but also sent a "very strong message to the country."

Some unions threatened to block the change but Len McCluskey, Unite's leader, adopted a conciliatory tone after a telephone conversation with Mr Miliband. He said: "It was certainly a bold and brave speech, and it may well be a historic one if Ed's vision comes to fruition. He seemed to be saying that he wanted to see tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of ordinary trade unionists actively playing an active role within the Labour Party. That's something I very much welcome."

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU postal workers’ union, dismissed the Miliband plan as “a very old fashioned idea.” Asked whether he could stop Mr Miliband pushing  through the reforms, he replied: "Well, let's see. Let's just see what happens in the process." He added: "We are going to make sure our voice is heard. We live in a democratic society and as I understand it we are entitled to have our say in the party."

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, added:  “The current debate about the relationship between Labour and the unions, played out so publicly in the media, is an unforgiveable diversion from the real issues that this country faces.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness