I’m sure that most will have heard or read about Labour Party reform of the trade union links which in some quarters would have said that it is the best thing since slice cake by saying that it is a bold move by Ed Miliband and some people may have read the Interim Collins Report for your perusal I have decided to enclose the full documentation and decided to add a few concerns at the end of the report from various sources that I have been receiving and would like the National Executives of the Labour Party to clarify:
1. THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE LABOUR PARTY AND INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF OUR AFFILIATE ORGANISATIONS.
Trade unions and affiliated organisations hold a special place inside the Labour Party.
They founded the party over a century ago. Indeed, until 1918, Labour was entirely composed of affiliated organisations – individual membership was not possible. That changed after the First World War, when individuals were welcomed into the party’s ranks for the first time. But recognising the continued importance of the trade unions and socialist societies, the party adopted a federal structure which amalgamated the individual membership, organised around Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), alongside an affiliates’ section.
The federal structure remains in place today and already, during this consultation, a number of party members and affiliates have said to me that while it should remain so it also has to change. There is a recognition that the connection, particularly as it relates to trade unions, must become more transparent.
Trade union affiliation fees are paid to the Labour Party out of trade union political funds.
These funds are comprised of the political levy payments of individual people who chose to join a trade union. Margaret Thatcher’s government established a legal right for all trade unionists to contract out of paying that levy. We do not believe there is any need to change the laws around the right of trade unions to hold political funds.
Trade unions that affiliate to the Labour Party are required to pay fees on behalf of each of their members who pay into the union’s political fund. On this basis the trade unions are collectively affiliated to the party and have representation within the party’s structures in proportion to the level of their affiliation.
The individual levy paying trade unionists are in turn connected to the party through their trade unions, and have the right to select trade union delegates who participate in Labour’s structures at a local and national level. Individual trade unionists also have the right to cast a ballot in the election of the Labour Party Leader. They do not have the right to take part in local or parliamentary selections.
Ed Miliband has now said this process should be changed, so that instead of trade union levy-payers being automatically affiliated these individuals are instead able to make an active, deliberate choice on whether to be part of the Labour Party.
He wants them to have a real choice about affiliating to Labour – and then a real voice as individuals within the party. This new relationship is intended to transform Labour into a much bigger party of working people while also putting the link with trade unions on a modern and more secure footing. The prize is a party more rooted in the lives of working people with many more thousands of trade unionists given the opportunity to be an active part of the Labour Party at a local level.
Ed does not want this individual relationship with trade union members to damage the collective relationship and the institutional links between the party and the union organisations. Ed wants to mend – not end – the link.
I want to hear your views on how we meet Ed Miliband’s objective that “Individual
Trade Union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated” – and also how we meet the need for a collective voice inside the party.
We also recognise, and wish to learn from, existing schemes that already give trade union members the ability to make positive choices about affiliation.
The objective would be to convert as many as possible of the levy-payers of affiliated unions into individual membership of our party. The corresponding aim is a party that is stronger in the workplace, our communities and neighbourhoods, in real contact with working people from all walks of life.
I now wish to consult Labour’s members, supporters and members of our affiliated organisations on what this means.
It clearly means a potential new cohort of party members. But what would their
membership mean – what rights would they have, would they get all these rights immediately, and how similar or different would those membership rights look in comparison to existing CLP members of the party?
As the party Leader has acknowledged, moving to this new system of affiliation has big and historic implications for both the trade unions and the Labour Party which need to be worked through. Changes to the nature and scale of affiliated membership inevitably throw up questions about the way affiliated organisations are represented in the party and participate in its structures.
For instance, currently affiliated organisations have a 33 per cent share of the Electoral College for choosing leaders and deputy leaders along with MPs and members.
Each member of those organisations is balloted. Trade union members must tick a box indicating their support for Labour’s values before voting. There is already a plan to introduce a new section for registered supporters worth up to 10 per cent of this college, reducing the other three to 30 per cent each. We will need to consider what implications there are for the Electoral College over time, as we move to a different system.
A clear question that should be addressed during this consultation is what are the consequences for the Electoral College used to elect our Leader and Deputy Leader, in particular the Trade Union and Affiliates section.
It would be very helpful to have views in relation to the following questions:
• What kind of relationship with the party do you think those individuals who choose to affiliate want or expect?
• What rights should they receive? Should their rights differ from CLP members and if so how?
• What ideas do you have for how members of affiliated organisations might have a closer individual engagement with Labour and a real voice inside the party, particularly at the local level?
• How do we ensure that the collective voice of trade unions is still heard in the Labour Party?
• Once individual affiliated members have had an active choice about whether to be part of the Labour Party, do you believe that we would need to consider the consequences for other party structures including conference and the rules for electing leaders?
• What views do you have about the practical timeframe for agreeing and implementing changes to affiliation and related issues?
• Do you have any other ideas you wish to contribute to this review about how to deepen the relationship between Labour and working people.
2. STANDARDISING CONSTITUENCY DEVELOPMENT PLANS.
Since the Nolan Report on party funding in the late 1990s, which formed the basis of the regulatory system we have today, Labour has moved away from the old practice of sponsorship of MPs towards the current one of support for constituency organisations.
This was introduced so as to remove any question that financial support could be used to exercise influence over elected representatives, whilst recognising the legitimate and healthy role that trade unions and other organisations can play in funding local political parties.
Ed Miliband has underlined the value of local agreements between Constituency Labour
Parties and trade unions, saying they help to keep parties connected to the needs of working people. However, he has also said that such agreements need to be properly regulated and overseen so that nobody can allege that individuals are being put under pressure at a local level. It is therefore intended to establish standard constituency agreements with trade unions.
• What ideas do you have about the form that such agreements should take?
• What do you think should be the process for signing off and registering such agreements?
• Do you have any other suggestions about issues raised in this section?
3. USING PRIMARIES TO ENGAGE A WIDER PUBLIC IN LABOUR’S SELECTIONS OF CANDIDATES.
Labour members are the lifeblood of our party. It is essential that the rights that come with membership are recognised and understood. Party members play a crucial role in holding their MP to account, selecting their parliamentary candidate, selecting the Leader and Deputy Leader, picking delegates for annual conference, and much more besides.
No-one knows better than the thousands of activists who spend their time knocking on doors that our party must always be reaching to Labour voters and potential Labour voters.
Ed Miliband has already opened our party out to people on the outside who do not want to become full members by introducing a registered supporters’ scheme. Now he has identified the next step in opening up our politics.
Ed has proposed that, for the next London Mayoral election, Labour will use a “primary” to select our candidate. Any Londoner should be eligible to vote in that selection provided they have registered as a supporter of the Labour Party at any time up to the ballot. This draws on experience in other countries, which have seen an enormous outreach to new supporters in the course of a primary process.
He also asked for an examination of this idea in other internal party selections, such as in future parliamentary selections where a sitting MP is retiring and where the local party has dwindled so that the choice of who represents such constituencies is not limited to just a handful of people.
It would be helpful to have views and suggestions in response to the following questions:
• Should individuals who register as supporters in London ahead of the mayoral selection be charged a small sum to finance the administration of the primary? In
France this was One Euro.
• Should the Labour Party consider the use of new methods of voting, including voting on-line, in undertaking the London mayoral selection primary?
• Do you agree that primaries should be used in certain parliamentary selections? If so, what criteria should the party follow in deciding when a primary should be used?
• Who should be eligible to take part in a constituency-based primary selection?
• Do you have any other suggestions about issues raised in this section?
4. ENSURING FAIRNESS AND TRANSPARENCY IN LABOUR SELECTIONS.
Ed Miliband has stressed that he wants to ensure that every candidate selection in the
Labour Party happens in the fairest way. To that end, he has said that there will be a new code of conduct for those seeking selection and new spending limits in those selections, including for outside organisations as well as individual candidates. The objective is to create a level playing field for individuals who wish to become Labour candidates which is not distorted by money and resources. Similarly, election to be the Leader and Deputy
Leader of the Labour Party should be a battle of ideas and ability, and never descend into an arms race over who has the money to pay for the most leaflets or the resources to make the most phone calls.
• What proposals do you have for a new code of conduct for use in candidate selections?
In particular, how would you amend or add to the existing code of conduct for selections?
• What do you believe would be a fair level at which to impose a spending cap on candidates, and their supporters, in a parliamentary selection?
• What do you believe would be a fair level at which to impose a spending cap on candidates, and their supporters, in a mayoral selection or a European selection?
• What do you believe would be a fair level at which to impose a spending cap on candidates, and supporters of candidates, in elections for the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party?
• How do you believe that the code of conduct and the spending limit could best be policed and enforced?
• What activities should be banned during a selection?
• Are they any activities that the party should help to facilitate?
• What sanctions do you think should apply where the rules are breached? Do you have any other suggestions about issues raised in this section?
Now here is some concerns from some quarters of the labour movement Perhaps the wildest inaccuracy in Ed Miliband’s plan to distance Labour from the trade union movement is his claim that it will “let people back into our politics.”
Labour, in common with the other major parliamentary parties, has increasingly squeezed out democratic decision-making and entrenched power in the leadership.
Annual conference decisions are routinely brushed aside as irrelevant, with their general purpose to provide an uncritical audience for front-bench speakers.
The major role for party delegates is to applaud or, if considered young or diverse enough, to form the backdrop for the leader’s set piece.
No wonder Miliband has been quite happy to leave the trade union movement with 50 per cent of the conference vote. It makes no difference.
Conference can overwhelmingly pass a motion backing renationalisation of the railways only to be told that this is not party policy, indicating that real decision-making remains the preserve of a small coterie that does not even feel compelled to explain its stance.
So much for the nonsense spouted by Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps who spoke of “union barons” being able to “buy Labour’s policies and pick Labour’s leader.”
If trade union leaders really did contribute to party funds dependent on policies being acceptable to them, Labour would not be wedded to the austerity-lite agenda espoused by Miliband and Ed Balls.
The reality is that trade unions and their members invest to secure a Labour government.
The unions play their part in the formal democracy that remains within Labour, but they accept that working out policies is a party responsibility.
Unfortunately, Miliband’s actions over the past half-year exemplify the paucity of accountable democracy within the party.
He made a personal announcement that he would change the relationship between Labour and the unions in a panic response to hysterical media coverage of events in Falkirk.
In the event, despite vilification of Unite and its members, investigations by the police and the party discerned no wrongdoing, but by then the die was cast.
The relationship would change even though the details were up in the air.
Labour members have had no meaningful input. The entire process has been kept within a small leadership cabal and their decisions will be placed before the March 1 party conference on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
How many of the hundreds of thousands of trade unionists who pay the political levy will feel motivated to pay £3 to involve themselves more closely in Labour Party business?
Most trade unionists pay the levy because they support their union’s involvement in the political sphere and want a viable electoral alternative to the employers’ parties.
The accumulated payments contributed by levy-payers are used for union political campaigning or direct donations to Labour, according to membership-answerable decisions by the leadership.
It is the most honest and democratically accountable of all methods of party funding.
Miliband is now intent on ending Labour’s federal relationship and substituting party leadership for union.
This could only work if trade unionists were genuinely fired up by Labour’s plans for government, which is doubtful.
Talk from Miliband and Balls about “tough” decisions, further cuts in public spending, a pay freeze and private good, public bad will not generate a head of steam for higher party membership and healthy finances.
Miliband and company will regret the decision to dance to a media-orchestrated anti-union tune. The unions remain Labour’s greatest strength.
This nothing more than grandstanding to the Tories to say to them look we are dealing with the trade unions and what are you doing to deal with your fatcats donors and we are putting the challenge back to you do you support a cap on donations to political parties.