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Len McCluskey on the union ‘block vote’

Len McCluskey’s interview in yesterday’s Guardian makes interesting reading. Most focus has been on what he said about the Olympics about which David Osler has already commented. There is also some very good stuff about the class composition of the parliamentary Labour Party. However, there may also be some concern about what he said about the Unions’ share of the votes at conference and whether this represents a shift in position.

Last year, the trade unions collectively resisted pressure from the Leader’s office to concede a reduction in their share of votes at conference. This is what Len says now:

Q: Where do you stand on the unions having 50% of the votes at Labour conference? If you become more active through constituency parties, doesn’t that create a case for saying you should not have 50% of the vote?

A: It does. It absolutely does if we become much more active in the constituencies. What I want is a Labour party that is vibrant and that has at its roots our values. If we were successful in getting more of our activists involved in grassroots constituency Labour parties, then the argument about 50% block votes would become less relevant. That’s what I’m looking to do. I’m not looking to hold on to a block vote for the sake of it.

As it happens, trade unions no longer have 50% of the votes anyway — their half comprises all affiliates, including socialist societies, and will be reduced by the votes of ‘registered supports’. Talking of a union block vote is also misleading: constituency parties have a bock vote too but are often not mandated (indeed, party officials have been known to argue, without any basis in the rules, that they cannot be mandated). Unions, on the other hand, are often bound by union policies decided by their conferences. When not so bound, they can split their votes. The GMB often decides how to vote region-by-region, and Unite has also been known to split its vote.

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