Ed Miliband's reforms will be costly. Not changing will cost even more

The former Labour home secretary says the fracas in Falkirk is part of a politics whose time is up

Share
Related Topics

Two problems for Labour emerged from the Falkirk fracas. One is organisational, the other ideological. The organisational problem stems from the ability of affiliated trade unions to influence events inside the party on the basis of levy-paying members.

Some of these union members who choose not to opt out of the political levy (around £3 a year of their union membership fee) are members of the Labour Party. They are active in local constituency parties, they deliver leaflets, knock on doors, do all the thankless tasks that help to elect Labour councillors and MPs.

However most levy-payers are at best passive supporters and at worst hostile to everything Labour stands for. Yet they provide authority for trade unions to participate in the affairs of the party through separate structures over which the party leader has almost no control. The leader may have no control over the levy-payers but they certainly have control over the leader – exercising a third of the electoral college votes.

Ed Miliband has served notice on "power through passivity". His proposed reform goes much wider than simply opting into the levy rather than opting out. Those who opt into the levy paid to the Labour Party will become members, assigned to branches. No longer would they be phantom members deployed from a separate power base outside the leader's control.

This could cost the party money it badly needs. But maintaining a system where individuals are linked to a party they don't support through a decision they haven't made makes Labour part of the old politics that Ed is seeking to change. In such circumstances party funding is a second-order issue.

The ramifications are clear. Party members will decide policy and if the electoral college survives it will be on the basis of a 50/50 split between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the membership. Despite John Smith's OMOV (one member one vote) reforms of the early 1990s we currently persist with an electoral system that is not just OMTV (one member, two votes) but NMOV (non-member, one vote). This will change as a natural consequence of the Miliband revolution.

The ideological problem stems from the conviction of Unite's leadership and some other unions, that Labour should be a purely working-class party. Trade unions have done more than any institution to advance the interests of working people; to provide second and third chances to succeed in education; to nurture hope and aspiration in a more equal society.

Their most important contribution was to create the Labour Party. And while it's true that the original aim of Keir Hardie's Labour Representation Committee (LRC) to get working-class people into Parliament remains entirely relevant, the LRC decided at that historic meeting in 1900 not to be a class-based party. That decision meant that Labour would be a party of government rather than a protest group.

The Labour Party exists to serve the country. For all people regardless of race, colour, creed or class. While it's perfectly legitimate (indeed desirable) to help to get working people elected to Parliament, what was happening in Falkirk was an attempt to fix the system to ensure the election of someone programmed to pursue the narrow class-based politics of the far left.

The sifting process would have excluded the late Harry Ewing, a great Falkirk MP who virtually left his postman's delivery round on the Friday to enter Parliament on the Monday. It would also have excluded Ernie Bevin, the seventh illegitimate child of a Somerset farm worker who founded the Transport and General Workers Union and went on to be one of this country's greatest foreign secretaries.

Bevin is considered a class traitor by those whose only interest in the Labour Party is in using its structures to advance their bankrupt political philosophy. The organisational changes will help in the fight against what Attlee described as "doctrinaire impossibleism".

Levy-paying members are the ghosts in the machine. Ed Miliband's courage and leadership can turn our crucial relationship with the trade union movement into the advantage it should be rather than the liability that incidents such as Falkirk have often portrayed it as.

Alan Johnson is a former Labour home secretary and a former general secretary of the Union of Communication Workers

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes