Posts Tagged ‘Falkirk’

Why is Ed playing into the Tories hands on the union link?

10/07/2013, 06:06:30 PM

by Ian Stewart

Before I get flamed here, let me declare two interests – I am a member of both the Labour party and Unite. I am as concerned as anybody else with what may or may not have happened in Falkirk and other places, but am trying to pass comment here only upon what I know.

I believe that having a solid link between organised labour and our party is one of the great strengths we have. At its best, it means that we have to at least consider ordinary peoples’ daily lives, rather than simply what sounds good on telly.

If you were to ask most party members which legislation they would be proudest of over the past century, my guess is that after the foundation of the NHS, the list would include equal pay, anti – discrimination laws, John Wheatleys’ housing act, the wages councils, their successor the minimum wage, the dock labour scheme, the expansion of education, including the open university and health and safety at work.

It is a long list, and by no means exhaustive. What is striking is that in these cases and many others pressure for reform came not from some arid Fabian pamphlet, but from the trades unions affiliated to the Labour party. Hell, even when we had less than 100 Labour MPs back before the great war, the Liberal government passed the national insurance act, in part to head off a rising tide of militancy.

So I have watched the growing fuss over Falkirk with impotent rage. In simplest terms, those shouting loudest for my general secretary’s scalp have their own agenda. It is clear and simple to Msrs Hodges, Murphy et al – the union link must die. It is the major block to a “realignment” of the “progressive” parties in the UK, which, shorn of any link to ordinary people, could then unite and deny the Conservatives any power for a generation.

Of course, the fact that their preferred progressive partners, the Lib Dems, are in government with the Tories, and presiding over the biggest slump in living standards since 1929 may mean that this is utter tripe, but no matter. Never mind that the other parties of the centre left – the Greens, Plaid, SNP and Respect have gained votes from us by outflanking us to the left, and are looking to replace us, rather than do deals.

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How does Ed deliver his vision for union link reform? Step one, call Clegg

10/07/2013, 11:27:03 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Nick Clegg? Yes, Nick Clegg. Yesterday Ed Miliband gave a landmark speech about Labour’s relationship with the union movement, but it is Nick Clegg who will determine whether this boldest of gambles pays off for Labour’s leader.

To understand why a call to Clegg is so important, we need to be clear on the purpose of yesterday’s speech.

For all the talk of democracy and the new politics, this was only ever about dealing with the fall-out from Falkirk.  David Cameron’s recent barrage at PMQs defined the immediacy of Ed Miliband’s task: to demonstrate Labour is not in the pockets of the unions and can govern in the interests of the whole country.

Yesterday’s address was a visionary response that has the potential to transform what has been an unmitigated disaster, into defining moment for Ed Miliband.

But now comes’ the hard work. Turning aspiration into reality will be difficult and the path to success is both narrow and parlous.

Based on the details we have about the proposals, we know the arrangements for the political levy will remain the same.

Trade unionists will still contribute to their union’s political fund, unless they expressly opt out. Just as they do now.

What will change is how the political fund is distributed by the unions.

Under Ed Miliband’s plan, trade unionists will now have to “opt-in” to pay a portion of their political levy to the Labour party as an affiliation fee.

At the moment, the union leadership decide the number of members it will affiliate (for example, the GMB affiliates 400,000 of its 600,000 members) and the fees are paid in bulk, by the union, to the party.

The likelihood is that no matter how successful Labour is at encouraging union members to contribute to the party, there will be a major shortfall in affiliation fees.

Unions have estimated a potential 90% drop in affiliations. This isn’t even a particularly pessimistic assessment. Let’s not forget, the majority of trade unionists didn’t even vote Labour at the last election, let alone want to fund the party.

As the level of affiliations fall, so the portion of the union’s political fund that can be used for discretionary donations increases. The overall total in the political fund remains the same; it’s the split between affiliation fees and donations that will change.

In a scenario, where affiliation fees drop significantly, union leaders could end up with greater powers of patronage from the increased sums available for donation.

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Well done Ed, this is right for the party. Just one thing: make sure you’ve squared off the creditors

09/07/2013, 09:00:01 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This morning Ed Miliband will make a brave and genuinely bold move. Backing a change to the terms of union affiliation, so that individual trade unionists “opt in” to pay towards the party, will revolutionise the party’s relationship with union members.

It will potentially give Labour a direct link to millions of trade unionists and enable the party to focus the funding spotlight on the Tories’ dodgy big money donors.

Others’ have written about the merits of this move, suffice to say it is radical and offers the opportunity to comprehensively modernise Labour’s relations with the unions.

There’s just one thing. And it’s likely that the team at Brewers Green will have already addressed this, but just in case, before Ed Miliband gets up to speak, it’s important that the Labour party has made sure its creditors are comfortable with the changes being proposed.

Why? Because the party has long term loan financing arrangements that are secured against a stable, minimum level of future income.

A few years ago, the party did what many businesses and individuals do: it refinanced its debts. As part of this process, agreements were signed that committed the Labour party to a more manageable  schedule of repayment and debt servicing .

The creditors consented to signing these less stringent agreements because Labour promised to maintain a minimum level of income, out of which a proportion would be dedicated to debt payment and servicing.

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Ed Miliband needs a big win today and Len McLuskey should give it to him

09/07/2013, 06:30:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Today, Ed Miliband will set out a series of bold reforms to Labour’s relationship with its affiliated trade unions, in a bid to draw a line under the disastrous fallout from the botched Falkirk selection process.

He will propose an end to affiliation fees from the unions, switching to a system where individual trade unionists “opt in” to pay towards the party. Miliband will argue that trade unionists need to make “a more active individual choice on whether they affiliate to the Labour party”.

Fee income under the current system is said to be worth around £8 million a year to the party. The risk is that many fewer trade unionists choose to opt-in, with some estimates predicting the change could cost the party as much as £5 million in income

Miliband is also set to announce the greater use of primaries to select parliamentary candidates, especially where a local party’s membership is small. The party will also use a primary selection to choose Labour’s candidate for the London mayoralty in 2016.

There will be a new code of conduct for those seeking selection, with stricter spending limits, both on individual candidates and the trade unions and other affiliates backing them.

Miliband will say that Falkirk represented “the death throes of the old politics” and that he wants to build “a better Labour party – and build a better politics for Britain.”

Party reform is a familiar expedient for Labour leaders in opposition. Neil Kinnock’s is best remembered for driving through vital policy and organisational changes which brought Labour back from the brink. Later, John Smith took the gamble of driving through one member, one vote and curbing the union block vote.

And of course Tony Blair scrapped Clause Four of the party’s constitution back in 1995 – with its ambiguous commitment to public ownership – in a bid to “say what we mean and mean what we say.”

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After Falkirk, it’s time for state funding of political parties

05/07/2013, 06:36:50 PM

by Dan McCurry

When somebody wants to end a relationship, they don’t engage in a rational conversation, they engage in rudeness, spite, and provocation. The end of the end maybe a rational discussion, but the beginning of the end nearly always starts with unpleasantness. The manner of Len McCluskey’s conduct in recent times has been unacceptable. This is not clumsiness, ignorance or accident. It is downright rude, and he knows it.

When the Tories have attacked Labour’s union relationship in the past, it has had little effect. Voters know Labour is fearful of indulging the unions to much, and that the unions support ordinary working people. However, the recent Tory attacks are different. Cameron, at PMQs, was not attacking Len McCluskey, he was attacking Ed Miliband. His allegation was that Miliband is not in control.

My first observation of the power of unions over Labour was at the 2009 Bournemouth conference. I arrived as delegate, excited and empowered with my vote. I wanted to put forward a motion and lobby other delegates to back my ideas. I soon realised that the results are stitched up by the unions beforehand. The delegate vote is window dressing for the membership.

The unions own the Labour Party conference. It is an annual jamboree where they get to take the stage and pontificate before some of the most powerful politicians in the country. There is nothing wrong with this. They paid for the conference so surely they can enjoy it. But when we witness them booing the name of a former leader, Tony Blair, what are we to make of this?

At the time it was dismissed as a one-off silliness, but it didn’t end there. The contempt has continued. Do these people have a respect for the institution of the Labour party, or are they only at conference because they are paymasters and therefore entitled to a good piss-up? If so then it’s an extremely expensive piss-up.

The unions give us millions each year, and they obviously have a duty to question whether these donations are in the interests of their fee paying members. They may also ask whether the high profile funding of Labour serves their image well, taking into account the barrage from the other main party, which must breed hostility in managers. There is a serious question as to whether funding Labour is a liability rather than an asset to the unions.

The alternative to union funding is state funding. If the level of state funding were sufficient then no party would be obliged to a specific interest group. Politics would be less dirty in terms of allegations and suspicions.

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