Smith heads for clash over Omov

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of the biggest unions rejected John Smith's compromise over Labour Party democracy yesterday, but supporters of 'one member, one vote' (Omov) still claim that the Labour leader will win the vote at the party's annual conference.

In defiance of Mr Smith, senior figures in Labour's largest affiliated unions insisted there should be a continued union input into the selection of parliamentary candidates. Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said that he would resist any attempt to exclude the unions from the process.

A senior official from another large union declared that the Labour leader's proposals stood no chance of eliciting an agreement between the two wings of the labour movement. Union decisions opposing Mr Smith's formula for 'one member, one vote' were 'set in concrete' and could not be changed ahead of autumn's annual party conference, the source said.

But on the eve of the vote on the issue by the Transport and General Workers' Union conference in Bournemouth, sources close to the Labour leader claimed that carefully worded union resolutions already lodged for the party conference showed the possibility of hardliners - the T & G and the GMB general union - being outvoted. Resolutions from more 'flexible' unions reportedly leave the door open for an agreement with Mr Smith's line.

There is little doubt that the 650 T & G delegates will today back a motion calling for the retention of the block vote in the selection of parliamentary candidates and in party leadership elections. Within the past few days, Mr Smith's office has indicated that he is prepared to drop his insistence that there should be no union participation in elections for the leadership of the party.

Significantly, the Labour leader made no reference to such a contention in his 35-minute speech yesterday. However, Mr Smith asserted that only party members should have a vote in selecting parliamentary candidates and an aide said that he had no intention of backing down on that principle.

Mr Morris, whose union wields 12 per cent of the conference vote on party policy, was adamant about his opposition to the Smith compromise.

He said: 'We will refuse to participate in any arrangement which undermines the rights of T & G members. I don't think we are in the business of trading off one part of our members' democratic rights for another.'

But with the union conference season virtually complete and the end of the parliamentary session in sight, Mr Smith's camp is preparing for an intensive campaign to garner support for the motion eventually put to the policy-making party conference.

According to one report, constituency support for Omov is running at six to four in favour.

John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman and a member of the committee that will report on a consultation exercise finishing this week, said: 'We are now moving from the rhetoric stage to a cool analysis and the agreement I am sure we'll arrive at at conference.'

Leading article, page 27