Is Ed Miliband bold enough to take on the unions and win?
Labour leader has backed himself into a corner, say columnists, but perhaps he has a plan up his sleeve
ED MILIBAND'S plan to reform the way Labour is funded has become the dominating theme of the Trades Union Congress in Bournemouth this week.
In a bid to end the dominance of powerful trade union leaders over Labour Party funding, Miliband wants to remove the automatic payment of fees by millions of their members to the party.
The Labour leader is expected to urge unions to have "the courage to change" when he speaks at the conference today.
But some critics are wondering if Miliband himself has the courage to push the changes through.
"I know we shouldn't be too hard on poor old panda features," writes Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph. "But never in all the beery, baleful and halitotic history of relations between the Labour Party and the trade unions has there been such an abject display of limp-wristed wimpitude."
In battling Unite, Miliband has shown "the decisiveness of a dishcloth", says Johnson. "What is the definition of a milimetre? The distance between the positions of Miliband and his masters in the trade unions. What is the definition of a milisecond? The time it takes for Miliband to do their bidding. What is a Miliband? A rubber band that is twirled between the fingers of militants."
As unions warn they will cut Labour donations if Miliband's reforms go ahead, it seems he has "backed himself into a corner and desperately needs a way out", says Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror.
It is "bewildering" that he picked a fight with the very people who share his values, says Maguire, but if he was now to wave a "white hankie of surrender" his loss of face would be "wounding, even fatal".
In The Times, Rachel Sylvester says Miliband "needs to be bold" if he is to succeed in forcing through change. She compares him to the mouse in one of Aesop's fables, who escapes from a lion by promising to save his life in the future. He later does so by gnawing through hunters' ropes that have caught the lion in a trap.
"I can't help thinking that this is how the Labour leader sees himself," says Sylvester, "an inoffensive creature that can release a powerful beast. If he is not careful he will find that he has been gobbled up."
Miliband is "in a tangle", says Brian Groom in the Financial Times. "And his reforms, far from weakening union influence, will increase it," argues Groom. "Instead of flowing automatically to the party, money will pile up in union political funds, which they could donate to Labour if it is doing what they want."
But The Independent suggests Miliband might have a plan up his sleeve. Labour is looking to impose a £5,000 cap on donations and introduce state-funding to political parties, claims the newspaper.
The move would help compensate Labour for its reduced income from the trade unions and, if it was to win the next election, could be shoe-horned in without the support from the Tories and Liberal Democrats.
The Independent suggests Miliband's current battle with the unions – far from weakening him and the party – could give him a strong platform to call for changes to "take the big money out of politics" in 2015. ·