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Eight reasons still to vote against the Collins report

Special conferenceAt the special conference on 1 March, Ed Miliband may well have the “Clause IV moment” his advisors sought, though Labour’s enemies are saying unions will have too much power as they probably always will. His proposals, made in the wake of a Falkirk “scandal” that never was, have lost their rationale. If he wins the day, as now looks almost certain, it is not because trade unions and constituency parties are enthusiastic about them, or even agree with them. Nor is it because the consultation responses – which have been totally ignored in the report – favoured them… they didn’t. It is because the trade unions and constituency parties are instinctively loyal to him and want him to win in 2015. But this is not the way to make the most radical changes ever in the relationship between the trade unions and the party they founded over a century ago, so here are eight reasons still to vote against the Collins report.

  1. The opt-in scheme proposed for trade union levy-payers will result, when union affiliations become tied in five years time to the numbers opting-in, in a drastic cut in party funding. Few trade union leaders seriously expect more than 10% to become “affiliated supporters”, which would mean the loss of £7million a year in affiliation fees, roughly a quarter of total party expenditure.
  2. This “opt-in” scheme is presented as more democratic, but it isn’t. Members will pay the levy either way. What would we think if trade union members had to tick a box to say they wanted to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot if they’d done so? Or if they had to say they, individually, supported the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to those who’d ticked a box? Or if members had to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in strike ballots? “Opt-in” will reduce union affiliation numbers even if their members’ support for Labour rises. Many leading Labour MPs admit that they plan to use that reduction to cut union votes within the Party, which would be to the advantage of the Party machine, not of individual trade union or CLP members.
  3. “Registered supporters” of the party have up to now paid nothing. So few have been recruited (their numbers are secret) that they are to be ignored and recruitment is to start again. ‘Progress’ has always called for their involvement but they were supposed not to be involved in leadership elections until 50,000 were recruited. Nevertheless, they are to be given votes in both leadership elections and a London primary with immediate effect, equivalent to the votes of individual members of the party who pay £45 a year.
  4. Some constituency members may be alarmed about a possible reduction in the value of their votes in leadership elections, as large numbers of trade union levy payers could in theory be recruited as “affiliated supporters” with a vote equal to party members. However, most trade union levy payers, including many who have voted in the past, will lose their right to vote entirely because they won’t have previously ‘opted in’. And unlike registered supporters, they will continue to pay roughly a levy of £7 a year on average, often for most of their working lives. Almost all that money funds the Labour Party.
  5. We may be relieved that the higher threshold proposed in the leadership elections – 15% rather than the current 12.5% – isn’t higher still, as was originally proposed. However, it still would have meant that the elections that did take place would have had fewer candidates (two not four when Neil Kinnock was elected and probably just two in the most recent election, both called Miliband).
  6. The primary proposed to select a Mayoral candidate for London in 2015 (against the wishes of the London Labour Party) will virtually exclude trade unionists (who currently have 50% of an electoral college) because there will not be time to recruit many affiliated supporters with a general election in between. “Registered supporters” will be included, however, which is a recipe for electoral fraud and manipulation by the party’s opponents.
  7. The administrative problems of this package of proposals cannot be over-estimated. Is there any sense in having, effectively, four tiers of party membership or pseudo-membership: (1) Individual members. (2) Trade unionists who are “affiliated supporters”. (3) Trade unionists who are box-tickers but not “affiliated supporters”, which could happen for many reasons (administrative error or failure to pass on details; inaccurate details on the union database; people with more than one address; people eligible but not on electoral roll like 6m others). (4) “Registered supporters” who pay a minimal one-off “administration fee”. Ensuring that the Labour Party’s database is consistent with each of 14 union membership systems when people change address or jobs will be a permanent problem. This will be a constant source of ammunition for a hostile media when people get a ballot paper and shouldn’t or vice versa. It is hard enough for unions to keep track of home addresses for their internal purposes, as they normally relate to members in their workplace.
  8. If you were prepared to take financial risks and wanted a mass party with a working class base, the right approach would have been to slash membership fees from £45 – well above the reach of many of our voters – and make sure that our policies are much more attractive to trade unions and working class people. As it is, the offer to trade unionists is not very attractive – to get a vote they already have and be allowed to attend meetings (never Labour’s greatest attraction) without a vote. No real influence. No real democracy – unlike in their own unions where conferences and executives still do make policy.

The Collins report proposes two rules changes as well as its recommendations. They are on two separate subjects (Leadership elections and Primaries) and deal with different chapters. Normal practice in the Labour Party is to have separate votes on separate rule changes. This would allow you to decide your views and vote separately on each proposal. This may not happen because the NEC were told by the General Secretary that the procedure was up to the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) whilst the CAC were told that the NEC had decided to have only one vote! Is this contradiction an unfortunate coincidence or deliberate misinformation? Readers will have to make up their own minds – delegates may wish to enquire when the Special conference opens. In the meantime, you might want to consider proposing that your constituency party to send this emergency motion to the NEC & CAC:

This CLP urges the NEC/CAC to ensure that there are separate votes at the Special Conference on 1 March on the report and on each rule change in line with normal procedure.”

You can download a leaflet comprising these reasons for opposing the Collins report here – ideal for distribution at Regional “briefing” meetings for delegates or at constituency meetings to decide how to mandate delegates.

5 Comments

  1. John P Reid says:

    Although I can’t fault point 1. The other are nonsense

    2 what has having to opt into your union to be able to vote on your unions policies got do do with opting in to subsidise a party, At the moment all affiliated members get a vote on leadership elections, regarding the idea that it’s undemocratic for the fewer union supporters to not to influence policy as much, are you really saying that people who forget to opt out of supporting labour ,and are able to vote are one democratic, than being given the chance to vote to opt in?

    3 progress have never asked to be given a chance to vote additionally in elections, they’re not an organisation like the Fabians or the Co-op and you know it,if there are secret list of union members who are labour supporters ,but not members and have an influence,heats that got to do with persuading votes or progress,

    4 you’re joking ,so giving union members the chance to opt in and it changes a local parties vote, is more unfair than those already affiliated and can vote and have took place in the opt out scheme,reminds me of the. View use to stop OMOV in 1993 that it was too complicated to ask members to have OMOV, which of course was the same expression those opposed to black people being given the vote in APartied.

    5 Niel Konooc one of the last 5 labour leaders was t even elected under the 12% rule!and When Bryan Gould challenged John smith,had that been the case I’m sure less People would have back ed Smith. So the only person who’d have got elected un opposed was Gordon, who Er, apart from the few votes John McDonnell got ,stood un opposed any way.

    6 what’s the primaries for The London Mayor got to do with anything, if it’s not in place by then, then the old system would prevail,

    7 regarding those who may pay a one off fee, in what way is this different to begin a Fabian, co -op as for it may not work as they’ll be mistakes, well we can’t be much of party if we think we’ll not give unionists the chance to fund labour as it’s too complicated!

    8 you know full well ,that here are student ,unemployed,ex squaddie or teenage rates and college members who can pay between 1p to £1 to join

  2. Robert says:

    Long Live the one Nation Progress party, all Miliband is of course is the figure head for Blair.

    the 1000 year Reich is still going forward.

  3. Sandra Crawford says:

    Can anyone tell me if anyone other than those invited to the conference can vote?

    I am a member aand have not be told that I can vote on these issues.

  4. James Martin says:

    Eight reasons? Surely the biggest one is the fact that Miliband is a useless xxxx? (abuse deleted in line with comments policy – decided “useless was just about OK – Ed)

  5. swatantra says:

    I wouldn’t call him useless; he will have brought about the most fundamental change in Labour history, bigger than Clause IV.

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