Ed Miliband vs unions: what does the Labour leader want?
Miliband's reforms could cost Labour millions of pounds but he is determined to push them through
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband spent this morning trying to persuade union leaders to back an overhaul of the party's funding system. He told delegates at the Trades Union Congress in Bournemouth that his proposals on funding would strengthen the party's chances at the general election - but several unions have attacked the plans.
What does Miliband actually want? He wants union members to be able to actively choose whether or not to join Labour and donate money to the party. Currently, members of unions that support Labour pay an automatic fee to the party and become an affiliated Labour member unless they opt out. Miliband would like trade unionists to instead have the choice to “opt in” to join the party directly.
Won't this cost the Labour party money? Yes. In total, the affiliation fees are worth around £8m a year for Labour. Insiders have predicted that the party would lose out on around £5m a year by reforming to an “opt in” system.
Why is Miliband prepared to lose millions of pounds? He is apparently trying to curb the power of a handful of trade union leaders. Other parties have often accused Labour of being at the beck and call of the powerful union leaders who write its cheques. Miliband also hopes that many trade unionists will choose to become full Labour members, rather than affiliated members through their unions, boosting the membership from less than 200,000 to 500,000 or more.
What are the risks? Union members could decide against opting in, which would leave the party unable to launch effective election campaigns. Union leaders may also reject the idea, which would make it almost impossible to implement.
Why now? Miliband has been spurred into action after an alleged attempt by Unite to rig a contest to replace Eric Joyce as the party's election candidate in Falkirk. An internal Labour report cleared Unite of any wrongdoing but the Tories made a big issue of the whole affair, repeatedly claiming Miliband was dancing to the tune of Unite leader Len McCluskey.
What other funding reforms would Miliband like to see? The Labour Party is reportedly planning to introduce state-funding for political parties, as well as a £5,000 cap on donations, if it wins the 2015 general election. While Labour had the highest income out of the three main political parties last year, much of this came from unions. A cap would have a much more damaging effect on the party's opposition: donations make up around 60 per cent of the Conservative total income and 25 per cent for Liberal Democrats. A move to cap donations would therefore 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 of Tories and Lib Dems. ·