by Jonathan Reynolds
One thing more than anything else strikes me when reading Ed Miliband’s final proposals for party reform – when he told us he wanted a new politics, he really did mean it.
What Ed is proposing is genuinely a chance to bring trade unionists into the core of local Labour parties. For an active local MP like me, it offers a tantalising opportunity to expand the number of people involved in my local campaigns, my events and my community work. In future, when I speak in the Commons in support of manufacturing, industrial policy or the NHS, I could have the chance to send my message directly to more of the people I am speaking up for.
I want to make clear that I know, under the system we have now, there are a great many trade union officers and members who work night and day to spread the Labour message in their unions. They should never think we don’t appreciate them, because we do. But I have always understood that all politics really is local – if I want people to vote Labour in my area they need to know what I am doing and believe in, not just the collective Labour message. This is a chance to do that.
Because it is such a substantial change people will inevitably describe it as a ‘Clause 4’ moment. But actually this is something even more radical than that. Clause 4 was a huge and important change, showing the country we understood the world had changed, but it was essentially a cosmetic issue – an issue in how we were perceived. Ed’s reforms are more radical because they are about power, shifting substantially more of it away from the centre towards the grassroots of the party.
In addition, the prospect of final achieving One Member, One Vote in Labour leadership elections is an even greater prize. Our aim should always be to ensure that as many people as possible who share our values can participate in choosing the leader of our movement. Trade unionists are an essential part of that. A future leadership contest with a transparent electorate whose votes have equal weight whether they are a new member or a member of the shadow cabinet is right, radical, and long overdue.
When party reform was first floated, I understood why some people were wary. 13 years in government had eroded the relationship between the party’s leaders and the grassroots. But Ed always said this was about improving, not ending, the status quo and he has been faithful to that.
For me, the most essential political work unions do for the Labour cause isn’t just when they tell their members it’s in their interests to vote for Labour MPs and governments at election time (though that’s welcome!).
It’s in the essential political job they do day in, day out. That’s the job of fighting against racism and homophobia, ensuring people have respect in the workplace, and offering educational opportunities to members (amongst so much else). In a constituency like mine, they are integral to what we do and who we are. If you agree with that, and what to make sure it continues, then you should welcome these reforms.
Jonathan Reynolds is the Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde and Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change