Unions likely to remain neutral

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of the biggest trade unions are unlikely to make formal recommendations to their members in support of rival candidates in the Labour leadership contest.

The lack of commitment is indicative of a reluctance to support Tony Blair, who is unpopular among senior trade unionists, and a desire not to be seen openly to oppose the most likely winner.

More than 4 million trade union political levy-payers will be eligible to vote in the poll. Almost all unions are expected to comply with the wish of Labour's National Executive Committee for a postal ballot, despite a cost of more than pounds 1m.

Ruling executives of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the GMB general union and Unison, the public service union, the three largest unions affiliated to Labour and holding more than 2.3 million votes, are all due to meet early next month.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, said it was far too early to talk about recommendations before any of the candidates had declared their formal interest. The TGWU executive, which meets on 6 June, is expected to endorse Labour's guidelines for the election and also adopt a position of neutrality in the ballot.

A similar stance is likely to be taken by the executive of the GMB, which has 830,000 levy-paying members, despite its declared support in 1992 for the 'dream ticket' of John Smith and Margaret Beckett. All candidates are expected to receive an invitation to address the union's annual conference in Blackpool, which begins on 13 June.

John Edmonds, general secretary, said: 'The GMB has yet to decide if we will make a recommondation but if the media can decide who the next leader of the Labour Party should be, why can't we?'

It is expected that the vast majority of ballots will be conducted under contract by independent organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society. They will be financed - at a rough cost of 30p per levy-holder - through the political funds and from money that would have largely gone in donations to the Labour Party.