Smith plea likely to fall on deaf ears: Labour & Democracy: A key union looks set to oppose one member, one vote as the party is accused of suppressing PR report

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JOHN SMITH'S campaign for grassroots democracy for Labour is likely to fall at its first major hurdle today.

In defiance of a personal plea yesterday by Mr Smith, delegates at the annual conference of the Manufacturing Science Finance union are expected to oppose one member, one vote (Omov) in the Labour Party.

After a speech by the Labour leader to MSF delegates in Blackpool, the executive of the union later decided to back the existing system of party democracy with its strong union input. The conference is likely to follow suit.

Mr Smith hoped that delegates would today clear the way for his plan that trade unionists who paid the political levy could become members of the party by paying a small additional sum. That would have given union members an input into the election of the Labour Party leadership and selection of parliamentary candidates, but it would have abolished the block vote.

The backing of the MSF, Labour's sixth largest affiliate, is critical to Mr Smith's chances of pushing his plan through this autumn's annual party conference where unions command a 70 per cent block vote. It is the first union conference to assess his policy.

Mr Smith told the conference that the party must forge a stronger relationship with unions based on democratic principles. His vision of Labour was 'twin track'. It involved 'one member one vote, but also many more members, many more votes'. He said: 'Political levy-paying trade unionists already make a voluntary contribution to the party. I think it is right that we recognise this by offering them a special rate to encourage them to join us as full participating members.'

One way through for Mr Smith's backers would be by defeating an MSF motion today which calls a halt to consultation among union members on Omov. Even if delegates backed an anti-Omov resolution, the union's leadership would have to listen to members if they backed Mr Smith's reforms. The present MSF executive, with its large contingent of left-wingers, is due to be replaced by a more moderate committee, more disposed to support Mr Smith. Some union officials therefore believe the 'consultation' motion is more important.

Mr Smith faces the opposition of most of the big affiliates to Omov. The three biggest unions - the Transport & General, the GMB general union and the National Union of Public Employees - are all opposed.