Rob Marchant: Revamping Labour's union ties could help Ed Miliband

Some activists see Blairite diehards trying to ‘break the link’ – but this is at best paranoid

Share
Related Topics

As delegates gather in Bournemouth for the Trades Union Congress, one subject will surely be a major topic of conversation for delegates from the larger unions: the future of their relationship with the Labour party.

While the relationship between the party leader and the leaders of the main unions has never been easy for either side, it is safe to say that relations are at a turning point in their 113-year-old marriage. As things stand, a smooth and trouble-free conference season seems an increasingly remote prospect.

To recap, the disastrous selection process for Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Falkirk, where allegations of malpractice triggered the resignation of Tom Watson  as its election campaign coordinator – and which even now is subject to wildly differing versions of events – has kicked off a wholesale reform programme of everything from party funding to MP candidate selection and conference voting.

Then, last Friday night on the eve of the TUC, the party suddenly accepted that no wrongdoing had taken place. Simultaneously, candidate Karie Murphy – Watson’s office manager and friend of Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union – pulled out, in what seemed almost certain to be some kind of deal, after threats that Unite could boycott the party's conference later this month.

Although McCluskey, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, accepted the principle of reform of the union link from the outset, one wonders if this stance will continue. And other union leaders have been notably less enthusiastic.

The GMB responded last Monday by announcing a cut in affiliation fees of almost 90 per cent, estimating that only around a tenth of current levy-paying members would sign up.

McCluskey’s former flatmate Watson, has also blogged that the proposals could be “a very serious development which threatens a pillar of our democracy”.

A number of other affiliated union leaders – perhaps the majority – along with some journalists and Labour activists on the left of the party, have been consistently down on the idea of reform, complaining of "Blairite diehards" looking to “break the link” with the unions. Given the scarcity of Blairites near the levers of power in the party and Miliband’s highly visible efforts to distance himself from New Labour, this narrative seems at best paranoid and quite possibly delusional.

In particular, some are already attempting to use the apparent “clean bill of health” given to Unite over Falkirk – the initial trigger for the reforms, after all – as a clinching reason as to why they are unnecessary.

All these people are probably in for a surprise.

Labour Uncut is a centrist Labour blog written by a team with decades of experience campaigning and working for the party. A week ago we had polling carried out by YouGov, which rather shows that union members agree with Miliband.

An astonishing 60 per cent of members of affiliated unions think that the outline reform proposals are sensible, against only 20 per cent who think the unions should continue to wield more influence.

And a further 10 per cent dislike the proposals because they do not think they go far enough – that Labour should scrap links altogether.

A further 61 per cent also said that union voting power at conference should either be reduced or abolished completely, and 63 per cent of union members would abolish union-reserved places on the NEC.

These figures are compelling. Apart from anything else, they certainly call into question the extent to which some union leaders are actually in touch with the opinions of their own members.

The polling was carried out for a pamphlet for Labour Party conference, titled Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why, which aims to use hard numbers to “think the unthinkable” on a range of potential manifesto issues. In addition, it will include proposals on how a party reform agenda successfully executed, far from being the meltdown scenario being suggested by some, could not only revitalise a somewhat neglected party organisation but provide a springboard for a recovery in Miliband’s personal poll ratings.

Given the revelatory nature of the polling on just this one issue, we think the pamphlet will make for pretty interesting reading when the party faithful gather in Brighton in two weeks’ time.

Whatever happens, one thing is clear. After Falkirk and the reform proposals – not to mention continuing tensions over a perceived lack of Labour support for the unions’ anti-austerity agenda – it is shaping up to be an unforgettable conference season for us all.

Rob Marchant is a columnist for Labour Uncut and contributor to Independent Voices. 'Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why' will be published on September 23.

React Now

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London