The move left Shadow Cabinet members and others who believe Labour should drop Clause IV - the party's constitutional commitment to public ownership - more hopeful that Mr Smith will to do that before the next election; moves that would dilute the trade union grip on Labour's national executive are also to be examined.
Mr Smith's stand delighted the 'modernisers' but left him with a battle ahead with some of the biggest unions, who made it clear yesterday that they still want a 'registered supporters' scheme that would give them votes on candidate selection. At least one out of the TGWU, Nupe, the GMB - Mr Smith's own sponsoring union - or the shopworkers' union Usdaw, will have to be persuaded to back Mr Smith to be certain of the change going through.
Neil Kinnock, who fought for one member, one vote from the first year of his leadership, said the unions would support Mr Smith: 'Common sense and their interest in the welfare of the party dictate that they will.'
As Labour's national executive put out to consultation a bewildering range of options for different levels of union involvement in selections, the leadership election and at conference, Mr Smith told the national executive he wanted one member, one vote (Omov) for MPs' selection.
The party leadership electorate should be split 50-50 between party members and MPs, including Euro- MPs, he said - ending the unions' 40 per cent say. And if party membership grows, the union vote at conference should fall from 70 to 50 per cent. Unions will no longer cast card votes at conference. Instead, union delegates will vote individually, with their votes recorded as percentages of the total. Mr Smith declared that that 'brings the block vote to an end', though critics argue the change is largely cosmetic, most delegates from most unions being likely to vote the same way on most issues.
The only olive branch Mr Smith offered was that the registered members scheme should still be worked on - it is seen as a route to boosting party membership and finances. It should not, however, form part of this year's rule change. He told reporters: 'It is possible in the future we might be able to build up the register . . . which might get involved in some way in the selection'. That, however, was seen as kicking firmly into touch any idea that votes will go with it - the modernisers believing that, once in place, Omov will prove irreversible.
If his proposals were adopted, Mr Smith said, they would mark 'one of the most far-reaching and significant democratic advances there has ever been in our constitution'.
Tom Sawyer, deputy general secretary of Nupe, said the unions 'will be disappointed obviously because he hasn't given everything that every union wants. But I think he has given them enough to feel they are still part of the Labour Party'.
The changes, while the most radical in the party's history, would still leave the unions able to nominate, and help to short-list, Parliamentary candidates. They would retain 70 per cent of conference votes unless party membership - which has been in persistent decline despite recruitment initiatives - rises. On present outline proposals it would need to be at least 200,000 above its present 285,000 for the union share to fall to 50 per cent. The unions still also control 18 of the 29 seats on the national executive. That could fall to direct control of 12 or 13 if the union link working party backs the five women's seats being elected by party members, or through the women's conference where the unions have the largest but not the only vote.
Success this October could embolden Mr Smith to tackle Clause IV, some senior Labour figures who want to see it go believe. Yesterday, Mr Kinnock said that he had no doubt that the debate about the clause 'would conclude with substantial reform'.Reuse content