Sunday, 2 February 2014

Just as They’re Starting to Make An Impact Labour Get Side-tracked by Navel Gazing.

The influence of trades unions over the election of a future leader of the Labour Party is to be reduced under plans announced by Ed Milliband.

The move is part of an attempt to ‘shake up’ the relationship between the party and its long term backers in the union movement in response to the embarrassment caused last year when UNITE were implicated in an attempt to ‘fix’ the selection of a candidate to fight the Falkirk by-election.

Mr Milliband described the move to a ‘one member one vote’ system in an interview given to the Guardian as ‘the right principle for the twenty first century.’ The reforms were, he said, about giving ‘people from all walks of life a bigger say in the Labour Party’ and that he wanted to ‘hear the voices of ordinary people’ in the party’s debate on policies.

There would, he recognised, be ‘financial consequences’ for the cash strapped party, but Mr Milliband said ‘when it is the right thing to do- you should do it.’

Under the plans from the end of 2014 new union members will have to opt in by paying a £3 fee to affiliate to the Labour Party, existing members will be moved over onto the same terms in a phased process over the next five years. MPs will retain the sole right to nominate leadership candidates with the margin of support needed to get onto the ballot paper rising to 20%, registered supporters who are not full members of the party will also be allowed to vote in leadership elections in return for a small fee; the unions will retain 50% of the votes at the party conference.

Labour veteran Alan Johnson told the BBC the changes were ‘absolutely the right way to go’. Glasgow West MP Ian Davidson was not so supportive saying ‘there’s been nobody in my constituency coming along and saying to me at this time of economic crisis what we need is a reorganisation of the Labour Party.’

Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shapps told the BBC that under the plan trades union affiliated members would outnumber ordinary party members after the changes, making it ‘even easier for the union barons to buy Labour’s policies and even easier to pick the leader.’ He accused Ed Milliband of promising to stand up to the unions and then being too weak to deliver.

Sometimes you really do have to wonder about Ed Milliband, his intellect is obvious; but his common sense seems to be non-existent.

Just when he was starting to land some serious blows on David Cameron over the cost of living crisis, taxation and the fact that despite the, alleged, recovery being in full swing many people are still splashing like mad just to stay afloat; he goes and delivers a sucker punch to his own jaw. It is hard to imagine anyone outside the Hampstead dinner party circuit being all that excited about an obscure plan to reform how the Labour Party is organised, especially one that will take five years and probably lead to financial disaster.

Even if that doesn’t happen the plan still won’t work, the power of the unions has declined massively since its heyday in the seventies, you can debate forever whether or not that is a good or bad thing; it is still a demonstrable fact. Politics abhors a vacuum and the space vacated by the union barons has been filled by those on the staff of the party’s regional offices.

It is over mighty regional officials not union barons who have exerted a virtual strangle hold over the selection of candidates, foisting a slate of prospective MPs on reluctant constituency parties who are so robotically similar they make automated checkouts look like free spirits. At the same time they have allowed the grassroots organisation of the party to atrophy through a mix of impotence and inertia because they fear any perceived challenge to their power.

Ed Milliband is to be praised for wanting to give grassroots party members a real voice in how Labour makes its policies; unfortunately he will probably never get to hear it because a lot of backroom functionaries who have never had to stand for election don’t like what they’ve got to say.

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