Tony Blair gave his strong personal backing to Ed Miliband’s internal Labour reforms on the eve of a special party conference that will approve the sweeping changes on Saturday.
The former Prime Minister said: “Ed has shown real courage and leadership on this issue. It is a long overdue reform that… was something I should have done myself. It puts individual people in touch with the party and is a great way of showing how Labour can reconnect with the people of Britain.”
The package will abolish the electoral college which chooses Labour’s leader and switch to a “one member, one vote” system. Trade union members paying the political levy to Labour will have to actively “opt in” rather than “opt out” if they do not want to back the party financially as at present.
Mr Miliband hopes to turn Labour into a mass membership movement by allowing people who do not want full membership to become “registered supporters.”
He will warn the London conference: “More and more people are turned off from politics. It increasingly feels like a match being played while the stands are emptying. We won’t turn that round by saying we’re right and they’re wrong. We won’t do it by singing the old songs even louder. If we do we’ll find ourselves shouting in an empty stadium.”
Mr Miliband will insist that he does not “want to break the link with working people” but wants to hear their voice “louder than ever".
But Ian Hodson, president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which will vote against the reforms, said they had “the potential to silence the voice of ordinary people and hamstring their representation in Parliament.” He warned: “If Labour want to dictate that relationship [with the unions] whilst taking the money, that money can easily be removed and spent elsewhere.”
The Conservatives insisted that the unions’ power inside Labour would not be diluted. They released research showing that at least 83 of the parliamentary candidates in Labour’s 106 target seats are union-linked, 49 of whom have links with the Unite union. Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, said: “Ed Miliband is waving the white flag. It’s the same old Labour – union bosses pick the leader, buy the policies and rig the selections.”