Union chiefs urge pact to avoid a leadership contest: Barons would back 'balanced' Labour ticket

The country's largest unions are privately urging front-runners for the Labour Party leadership to strike a deal to avoid a contest.

In a strategy reminiscent of the old Conservative Party, the so- called 'barons' of the union movement are prepared to bury their differences with the main candidates and back whoever emerges.

Many trade unionists will find it difficult to endorse Tony Blair as leader, but would fall into line if the 'ticket' was balanced with someone like John Prescott, who is regarded as more 'union-friendly'.

The unusual circumspection of union leaders follows the criticism they sustained two years ago when they were seen to 'anoint' John Smith and his deputy, Margaret Beckett, before any consultation process began. This time they are not keen to put their heads above the parapet in case they back the wrong horses and a deal is subsequently agreed.

Bill Jordan, president of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: 'It would please us no end if a natural leader emerged. If the politicians within the Labour Party believed they had a consensus on their next leader I'm fairly certain that would be welcome throughout the trade union movement.'

The barons are 'split all over the place' over the choice of leader, according to another prominent union official. 'They hope the principal candidates will sort it out between themselves. Their hearts are with John Prescott, but their heads are with Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.'

If there were to be a contest, union leaders stand a much greater chance of being ignored by their members. Under the new electoral college - in which the union input is reduced from 40 per cent to 33 per cent - all union members who pay the political levy are guaranteed an individual postal vote. In the previous system, which was more susceptible to the blandishments of union general secretaries, many unions engaged in a consultation process whereby votes were held at branch meetings. Some senior activists argue that unions might refrain from making a recommendation in the event of a contest, but many union leaders will be unable to resist the temptation.

The campaign to start the election early received a boost yesterday when Alan Jinkinson, general secretary of Unison, the public services union, said his organisation could ballot its levy payers by July. However, it is thought that some affiliates, such as the construction union Ucatt, would have considerable administrative difficulty in meeting such a deadline.

Meanwhile, a row over who is allowed to influence Labour policy within Unison erupted at its first annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday. Left-wingers believe the annual conference should dictate policy, but the leadership argues that only those who pay into the political fund affiliated to Labour should be allowed to participate.

Mr Jinkinson said that the Unison executive would not be recommending a favoured candidate for the party leadership.

Leading article, page 13

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Receptionist

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A bookkeeper/receptionist posit...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£28500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique corp...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Product Support Specialists

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in the design...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has 30 years of ex...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat