Union bid to force Blair to obey party conference

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Indy Politics

The rift between Labour's leaders and Britain's biggest unions will deepen this week when one of the party's biggest affiliates demands a system to force the Government to adopt Labour policies.

The rift between Labour's leaders and Britain's biggest unions will deepen this week when one of the party's biggest affiliates demands a system to force the Government to adopt Labour policies.

Furious over the Government's defiance of party decisions, leaders of Unison, the public service union with 1.2 million members, will call for a fundamental review of Partnership in Power, Labour's policy-making process.

The resolution, which is expected to be passed at Unison's political conference in Glasgow this weekend, could surface at the Labour national assembly in the autumn, where it would almost certainly attract majority backing among delegates. Unison, which moved the motion establishing Partnership in Power after the 1997 election victory, is angry over the Cabinet's failure to abide by the only two decisions at the annual party conference that went against the wishes of ministers. One resolution urged the Government to ensure state pensions were linked to earnings; the other demanded an inquiry into the private finance initiative (PFI).

Unions believe the Prime Minister's prosecution of the Iraq war is deeply unpopular with much of the party and will ensure considerable support for any rebellion against the Government in the autumn. However, it is understood that Unison's anger is more specifically targeted at the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr Brown has angered Labour Party activists by refusing to countenance adjustments to documents that he submits to national and regional policy forums – the system established by Partnership in Power.

The Unison policy forum this weekend is expected to endorse a resolution noting that party membership is still falling and that there is declining interest in taking part in the policy-making process.

The proposition argues that "mechanisms for ensuring that Labour administrations and elected representatives keep in step with views in the party are not working effectively". A spokesman for the union said: "We want the system to work and it is not working sufficiently well at the moment."

While falling short of a threat to withdraw financial support from constituencies where Labour MPs fail to endorse Unison policy, the motion urges the union's political leaders to "encourage" MPs to back Unison policies "even when these are not those of the party leadership".

The resolution calls for a review of Partnership in Power but concedes that there should be no return to the old system, whereby policies were decided by compromises cobbled together at the last minute on the floor at the party conference. The present structure allows policies to be considered at length so that submissions can be sought from a wide variety of sources.

Meanwhile, a battle will begin in earnest today for the political soul of the Transport and General Workers' Union – another important Labour affiliate. The union's members have begun to receive ballot forms in the election to replace Bill Morris as the union's general secretary. The two frontrunners are the left-winger Tony Woodley, the present deputy general secretary, and Jack Dromey, a national official and husband of the Solicitor General, Harriet Harman.

Mr Dromey called yesterday for a national summit on linking pensions to earnings.

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