Ever since they were surprised by Ed’s victory, the New Labour continuity brigade seem to have decided to carry on pretending nothing has changed, and maybe waiting for Ed to make a mistake. Now it’s clear they have settled on an old idea on which to make a stand – breaking the union link. They certainly choose their timing — nothing like the biggest attack on unionised employment in 25 years as an opportunity for an attack on another front – their political voice. The Left must resist it and we hope that union leaders will not mince their words in response.
In the Times (£) today, various New Labour heavy-weights are summoned to make the call:
Alan Johnson leads calls today for reform of the Labour Party, declaring that the system that elected Ed Miliband as party leader was wrong and should be changed to weaken the grip of trade unions. The Shadow Chancellor’s comments to The Times reflect deep unease among party modernisers over a result in which David Miliband lost, even though he won more support from Labour members and MPs, because his younger brother was backed strongly by trade union votes.
Mr Johnson, who wants full introduction of “one-member one-vote”, and at least two other members of the Shadow Cabinet are demanding a rethink of the rules. At the same time, former ministers from the Blairite camp are now also pushing explicitly for Labour’s historic link with unions to be broken. Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary, says that only full party members should be allowed a vote in leadership elections and that the unions should no longer have a “structural relationship” with Labour. Margaret Hodge, another Blairite former minister, has called on Labour to cut the “umbilical cord” with the unions….. Lord Mandelson said that the creators of new Labour should have changed the rules “when we had the chance”.
The Left will support Ed Miliband in stopping this nonsense. In his election campaign, Ed made clear:
I was brought up to believe that the Labour movement has real power to change the injustices in society. The trade unions are key to this. They are often at the heart of that fight and Labour’s link with working people through the trade unions is a fundamental part of our mission. Crucially, it allows Labour to be connected to the lives of millions of working people and provides a key communication link between the leadership and the grassroots. As leader I will defend this link. I want to see more people join trade unions – it’s a real shame that the private sector has such a low level of trade union membership.