Union opposes democracy plan: Setback for Smith over voting reform

Click to follow
JOHN SMITH'S plan for Labour Party democracy suffered a critical rejection yesterday at the hands of the largest private sector white-collar union.

Delegates at the annual conference of Manufacturing Science Finance voted overwhelmingly to oppose Mr Smith's vision of one member, one vote (Omov). They also decided to emasculate a consultation exercise among MSF members by insisting that the conference decision would prevail.

The MSF meeting in Blackpool was the first union conference to pronounce on Mr Smith's idea that union members who pay the political levy should be allowed to participate in the election of the Labour leadership and selection of parliamentary candidates, provided they pay a modest extra fee to become members of the party. Mr Smith's strategy would have abolished the much-criticised union block vote in these areas.

The support of MSF, Labour's sixth biggest affiliate, was critical in Mr Smith's campaign to win backing from unions which will command 70 per cent of the vote at the party's policy-making conference in the autumn. The Labour leader is now faced with the decision of whether to compromise or face down the unions.

All Labour's biggest affiliates are now set against Mr Smith's strategy, except the right-led Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, the third biggest union. Delegates at the annual conference of the Union of Communication Workers are due to make their decision on Friday.

After yesterday's vote, Roger Lyons, MSF general secretary, insisted that, although the conference decision was 'clear', it would be 'amplified' by the consultation process. He said: 'We're not in the business of dictating Labour Party policy, but MSF views will contribute to the party's consultation which John Smith will have to respond to.' The MSF resolution came despite a personal plea to delegates from the Labour Party leader on Monday.

Opposition to Mr Smith's plan will mount tomorrow when John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB, the party's second largest affiliate, will defend union input into Labour democracy in a key speech to Wandsworth party members in London. He will make it clear that the 'purist' version of Omov espoused by Mr Smith does not command a consensus in the union movement.

He will argue that unions should retain their voice in the party, but 'democratise' it by balloting members on decisions.