Miliband urges 'historic' changes to Labour's union links


Ed Miliband: "I do not want any individual to be paying money to the Labour Party in affiliation fees unless they have deliberately chosen to do so."

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Ed Miliband has pledged to end the automatic "affiliation" fee paid by three million union members to Labour.

It comes after the Unite union was accused of trying to rig the selection of the party's parliamentary candidate for Falkirk.

The Labour leader said changing its link with the unions would mean an end to "machine politics".

But Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the fee - worth £8m a year to Labour - would "stay as it is".

The GMB union said there was no evidence Mr Miliband's plans were "workable" and warned that they would cost the party a "very significant" amount.

Under the current system, members of supportive unions pay an automatic levy to Labour, unless they choose to opt out. Labour insiders estimate making it non-automatic would cost the party about £5m.


In his speech in London, Mr Miliband proposed that only those union members who "deliberately" chose to join the party in future would do so.

The announcement came after Unite, one of the party's biggest donors, was accused of signing up its members to Labour in Falkirk - some without their knowledge - in an effort to get its preferred candidate selected.


  • End to automatic affiliation for union members to the Labour Party
  • Members would have to opt-in to pay subscriptions to Labour and could opt not to
  • Spending limits and code of conduct for candidates in Labour selection contests
  • Open primary to be held for selection of Labour candidate for 2016 London mayor and potentially in other contests
  • Consultation needed on the amount MPs can earn from outside interests and rules to prevent conflict of interest
  • Called for all-party talks on capping donation to restart

Mr Miliband promised to make politics more "open, transparent and trusted" by creating a "modern" relationship with trade unions, saying he wanted "to take action and seize the moment that Falkirk represents".

The changes would be introduced as "soon as possible" and definitely before the next general election, Mr Miliband said. An aide later said this should happen "within months, rather than years".

But Mr McCluskey told BBC Radio 4's World at One there was "no civil war" within the Labour movement.

He added that, in his speech, Mr Miliband "did not mention anything" about losing the political levy from unions, which "would stay as it is".

Instead, Mr McCluskey argued, the Labour leader wanted to add a "second option", allowing union members to become an associate member of Labour - allowing them to show a stronger commitment to the party.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said Mr Miliband's proposal would reduce Labour's funding "by a very significant but as yet unquantified amount".

He also said: "The announcement contains a large number of new Labour Party policies which as yet are completely without the necessary substance that is required to see if they are workable."

Start Quote

Miliband and McCluskey share the view that the status quo isn't working - for very different reason”

End Quote

In his speech, Mr Miliband said: "What we saw in Falkirk is part of the death throes of the old politics. It is a symbol of what is wrong with politics. I want to build a better Labour Party - and build a better politics for Britain.

"There is no place in our party for bad practice, wherever it comes from. I am determined to uphold the integrity of this party."

Mr Miliband said unions should have political funds "for all kinds of campaigns and activities as they choose" but individual members should not pay Labour any fees "unless they have deliberately chosen to do so".

He added: "We need to do more, not less, to mobilise individual trade union members to be part of our party... The problem is not that these ordinary working men and women dominate the Labour Party. The problem is that they are not properly part of all that we do.

"They are not members of local parties; they are not active in our campaigns. I believe we need people to be able to make a more active, individual, choice on whether they affiliate to the Labour Party."

'Defining moment'

Mr Miliband said former Labour Party general secretary Ray Collins who, as a TGWU official, helped steer the merger with Amicus to create the Unite union, will lead discussions with the trade unions on the plan.

The Labour leader said the changes would have "massive financial implications" for the party, but could raise the current membership from the current 200,000 to a "far higher number".

Len McCluskey: "It was certainly bold, brave speech and maybe an historic one"

He also promised to look at holding open "primaries", where all adults, not just party members, can vote for the selection of a candidate in their constituency, including possibly in Falkirk.

He said such a system would be used to choose Labour's runner for the London mayoralty in 2016 - with anyone in the capital who registers as a party supporter getting a vote.

Mr Miliband also said there should be curbs on the amount that MPs earn from outside interests and rules to stop conflicts of interest.

Former Prime Minister and Labour leader Tony Blair suggested the changes could be a "defining moment" for the party and said they would send a "very strong message" to the public that Mr Miliband would "govern for for all the country and not simply one section of it."

The Conservatives say Labour should refuse to take any more money from the unions until an entirely new system of funding is agreed.

Party chairman Grant Shapps said Mr Miliband had been "pushed into giving this speech" and that "nothing" had changed.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Hope Fades-
    Yes the class war is over until you realise you're about to lose your job, or told to take a wage-cut, cant pay your mortgage/rent and see your public services being closed. Then suddenly Trade Unions start to seem a bit more attractive...

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Yup, a quick read through HYS shows how worried Tory central & their most rabid supporters (what the party Chairman [allegedly] calls "swivel eyed loons") are for the electoral prospects of their party come the next election!!!

    The more worried the more they pout, shout, stamp their feet & sling mud...!!!

    I only hope Ed M will be a more principled PM than Blair was.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    The financing of political parties has always been contentious, and there has always been the cry of unions controlling Labour and Big business controlling the Torys. In practice all politicians claim to represent their constituency but in truth only represent what their party decides with little thought for the voters, and thats all you can expect from career politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    It does make me smile all this anti union rhetroric, if you look at Germany, a country who works well with its unions, they are the strong economy in Europe, they are the ones bailing out the rest of europe. There is a lesson to be learned, listen to your workers, work with them because without them you are nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Well done Ed, you're really making your mark.
    I think this will lead to an even bigger lead for Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    When I tried to join the Labour Party they wouldn't let me in because I was not a member of a union. Frankly I'm glad that such a closed shop did not want me. Politicians and parties have to be inclusive which Labour evidently is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Ed Miliband needs to remember what his roots are, if it wasn't for the Union vote his brother David would be leading the Labour party and he would've been a winner, talk about a back-stabber.
    Ed Miliband just looks like a rich kid who has no idea how to make an impression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.



    Quite right. All the people moaning here about Labour not representing only the 'working class' clearly don't realise how relatively few people nowadays identify themselves as working class. ..."

    Which confirms they are completely unprincipled career politicians, move with the tide and exist to get into or stay in power, rather than to force the agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    Our democratic system has been dysfunctional and undemocratic "Red Ping or Blue Pong" elected dictatorships for generations.

    WE can't change the set-up because Labour and Tory want it just as it is now because it gaurantees them being in power every 5 years or so. Jobs for the boys / and girls.

    We are the only country in Europe with such an undemocratic system.

    Time for a change!

  • Comment number 456.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    New Labour should just join the Conservatives and have done with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    438 Blue Tamsie
    "5% tax cut for the very rich tax increases for the rest of us makes you think ...."

    Don't let facts get in the way of your opinion. The rich pay 5% more tax than in any year under Labour and there have been tax cuts for lower earners. Maybe "Red Tamsie" would be more appropriate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    430 "Of so little interest there are 54 unions in the TUC, 6 million members, from all socio-economic groups" - yes and how many of those want to be in the union? How many are bullied into it by the "scab hating" Trotskyite mad men that run them? How many teachers who have to sign up to get insurance cover if a pupil accuses them of naughtiness? How many signed up without knowing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    Unions are a good thing that may have gone slightly off kilter, unfortunately it is Labour that has forgotten who it should represent and seems to be more a Tory party these days than a decent Labour party from days before Blair, the Conservatives way of procuring money is even more corrupt and beyond belief that this is still legal

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    OK, let's have 4 or 5 scandals for the past month."

    IDS trying to avoid appearing before a parliamentary committee to explain misleading DWP use of statistics.

    Grant Shapps misuse of statistics + family bus. banned from google for SW theft

    The Mail story.

    DWP/ATOS refusing, despite a FOI requests, to reveal the number of deaths amongst those declared fit for work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    437. shar2812

    Labour=Tories Lite
    Liberal= Tory type
    Tories=Vote Conservative for a Britain Stong and Free etc
    UKIP= BNP Lite

    So where are the Unions in all this. I suggest they side with the more radical Socialist Parties. At least it will give the voters a credible choice!

    There is always Galloway and his Respect party = Islamification and Sharia Law party lite.. he is also a Socialist

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    @432. Big John the Red

    not just India, many other low cost & tax efficient countries as well, but that's not the point. So its OK for Honeywell or Honda or Apple to set up overseas factories, but not British ones? even Dyson moved shop out of UK.

    Is it OK to take Indian money for Jaguar or steelworks then?

    Or is it a point because its "India"? more acceptable if its Eire or Portugal?

  • Comment number 448.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    It is surprising how little positive comments are made about unions. They may be due, in part, to bad PR by the unions themselves.

    There have rarely strikes these days - the lowest figure for decades. Unions primarily negotiate employment environment conditions and pay rises, which individuals would cannot do on their own.

    Unions need to keep their message positive and specific.

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    Would be political leader makes promises he won't keep in order to gain publicity and votes - what a shock that is!

    There are no political principles anymore, only reactionary, populist outbursts said from the back of their latest bandwagon as they pass by (see Cameron on 'Sir Murray' for the required bbc balance).


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