Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Miliband’s ‘Falkirk moment’ – a fear and a fact

Well, it’s happened.
Ed Miliband has outlined his scheme to ‘mend not end’ the ‘Union problem’.
My immediate gut verdict?

My fear
My fear is very pragmatic – it’s money.
The Unions currently provide the lion’s share of Labour Party funding.
They also provide huge chunks of the money for affiliated candidates in local and national elections.

They do so via the political levy, which is currently an opt-out system – union members can refuse to pay it but, unless they actively do so, they pay it automatically … and the unions give it to the Labour Party.

Ed is now proposing to change this from an opt-out to and opt-in system. Union members will not pay automatically into the political levy; instead they must actively choose to be affiliated to the Labour Party.

This strikes me as the least thought-through idea I have ever heard.

For a start, how is it going to happen? How is Ed Miliband going to make the Unions stop collecting the political levy, but instead turn them into Labour Party recruiting agents, joining people up to the Labour Party, and organising their fees for them, through the unions’ financial mechanisms, but into the Labour Party revenue stream?

Ed Miliband hasn’t a clue either – all he can suggest is that he has asked Ray Collins, former General Secretary of the Labour Party, to lead work on how to make this a reality.
Ed Miliband is proposing get the Unions to organise their own impotency by directly recruiting for the Labour Party.
Best of luck.

The funding
But my fear goes beyond the scheme’s unworkability.

It would be my guess that millions of Union members – most of whom, let’s face it, genuinely could not give a fig about politics - will opt, not to opt-in, but will prefer to put the money into their pocket or into their union.

And Labour will go bankrupt.

Ludicrously, Ed has not made the reform of Labour-Party funding conditional upon the reform of other party funding. This is the funding equivalent of unilateral disarmament. So, as it is proposed, the Tories will continue receiving their £_thousands from big business, the Bahrain govt etc., … and we will be fighting from branch subs.

Ed has committed electoral suicide – and all, as a colleague pointed out to me – because of as yet undefined, unproven allegations about Falkirk!


The context
Maybe, if addressed properly in the correct context, this might have been made to work.

Ultimately, it is possible to argue that individual, active affiliation is better than a mass political levy. Maybe, with negotiation, it might have been possible to get the union turkeys to vote for their own political Christmas.

And, yes, most workers might be expected not to opt in. But, perhaps, with the right campaign to convince them of the worthiness of the scheme, with the active cooperation and support of the Unions’ leaders, and in connection with a series of lead-up initiatives to reconnect union members with local branches and local activists … perhaps it might have been turned into a mass-recruitment of union members into the active Labour Party, such as Ed envisages.

But that’s not the current context, is it?
The scheme is being floated as a punishment and admonishment of Unite for trying to fix the Falkirk selection. It is being proposed in the teeth of the opposition of Unite (and indeed of many left-wing activists). And it is being driven through as a knee-jerk reaction which seems self-evidently to be a case of Jim Murphy and the other Progress leaders seizing the opportunity to get rid of their union thorn-in-the-flesh once and for all.

In such a context, although I am Labour-to-the-core, even I can wonder whether, if I were a loyal union-member, I would not tell the Labour Party where to put their request for my affiliation fee. And, if I did opt in to any party at all, would it not make sense to send my money to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)?

The fact
But all this brings me to the final point – and it is here when I move from speculation to undeniable fact.

Where was the consultation with the Party members on this initiative?

Ed Miliband’s speech bangs on about democracy and representation. He wants to see members actively involved.
It’s all rubbish.
And the fact that it’s rubbish is proven by the fact that – on this major, cataclysmic, sea-change in the Party’s strategy and nature – he has just chosen to announce it as an edict from on high.
And my only involvement has been that he sent me an email this morning telling me that he wanted me to be the first to know what he was going to say, and of, quote: ‘the steps I will be taking’.

Now there’s an imperious ‘will’, don’t you think.

I have been asked (in the Your Britain campaign) what I think about a few issues (such as a British investment bank), but on this vital issue Ed Miliband has simply got together with his Progress friends in his Shadow Cabinet and imposed a right-wing solution on the Party.

So much for a democratic organisation!

The direction
Often it’s the little things that cause the most distress, and the thing that upset me most this morning was a little phrase in one commentary which stated that this was a start, but that ‘Ed Miliband is still to the left of the electorate’.
My heart fell.

All today’s announcements about affiliation fees are merely a part (primaries are another) of a Progress push to change us from a left-wing democratic socialist organisation which campaigns to persuade the electors that our beliefs are right, into a centrist-tory organisation which sets its principles where the electorate happen to be - no longer New Labour, but YouGov Labour.

Today, Ed Miliband seems to have chosen his allies, and declared his direction, and he has invited the organisations and people he is rejecting to help him.

I started off by saying that this is my immediate, gut verdict to what has happened today. I totally reserve the right to have got it wrong.
I desperately hope that I have – for the Party’s sake.

But at the moment I am finding it hard to believe that any good will come from all this.

1 comment:

  1. Good comment: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jul/22/ed-miliband-labour-union-conference