Smith wins union support for reforms

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The Independent Online
JOHN SMITH'S vision of 'one member, one vote' Labour democracy took a significant step forward yesterday as leading trade unionists on the party's union link review group backed his plans.

Acceptance of the proposals - even by representatives from the strongly opposed Transport and General Workers' Union and the GMB general union - makes endorsement by the union-dominated National Executive Committee on Monday a virtual certainty.

A delighted Mr Smith emerged from the meeting of review group MPs and union leaders declaring he had achieved 'consensus'. It appeared to have given even arch opponents much food for thought last night. That will not guarantee the plans' survival at the party's autumn conference or rule out the prospect of further watering down.

But while representatives from the GMB, TGWU and Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, appeared to have approved them through gritted teeth yesterday, the five-hour meeting singularly failed to live up to predictions that Mr Smith would be given a bloody nose.

Unions opposed to 'one member, one vote' rolled over on the same day that the GMB general secretary, John Edmonds, insisted in a Guardian article that 'one member, one vote' would risk making Labour narrowly- based and 'too elitist for a party of the people'.

But Clare Short MP, a review group member from the left of the party, said: 'I think we've got to the point where everyone's settled down and stopped being silly.' The package, which was set out in a statement by the group, proposes the election of the leader and deputy by a reformed electoral college with one-third party members, one-third MPs and MEPs and one-third trade union political levy payers who have registered as Labour supporters.

For parliamentary selections 'one member, one vote' would apply, either in its pure form or via the so- called levy-plus option for political levy-paying trade unionists.

What the group calls 'registered trade union members of the Labour party' would be entitled to vote on payment of a reduced party membership subscription.

Margaret Prosser, a TGWU national officer and the union's representative at yesterday's meeting, said later: 'We are negotiators and all negotiators recognise that in order to reach an agreement there has to be some flexibility.

'I think we will have to accept that there has been a major step forward. We will take the package away and examine it positively.'

A spokesman for the GMB said the plan was still some way away from its insistence that levy payers should be allowed to participate in party democracy. 'As such we can't support it,' he said, but he welcomed the move to include unions in the election of the leadership.

Tom Sawyer, a deputy general secretary at public service union Unison and a prominent 'fixer' in the movement, is understood to have been one of the main architects of the statement. His union has pushed for a register of Labour supporters among trade unionists who pay the political levy. The inclusion of the word 'registered' was seen yesterday as a gesture towards such sensibilities. The group also endorsed the far less controversial proposal to end block voting at party conferences.