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All union levy-payers should be able to vote in Labour selections

commons bench by UK Parliament, file at current row between Progress and Unite is really about class politics and union influence – not one parliamentary selection in Scotland. However, perhaps it is worth taking at face value the claim by Peter Mandelson in his plea for “no more Falkirks” that he is “trying to defend the rights of grassroots members of the Labour party – including trade unionists – to select whomsoever they wish to represent the party.” Would it not satisfy the objectives of Unite’s political strategy and Mandelson’s stated intent if we enabled all trade union levy payers, already de facto affiliated party members, to vote in Labour’s parliamentary selections?

These levy payers are already the party’s principal funders. They are already entitled to vote in the leadership election. Why should they not also participate in the selection of parliamentary candidates. They used to participate through their representatives on local party general committees when that was how parliamentary candidates were selected. Indeed trade union support was crucial to the selection of such people as Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool and Tony Blair in Sedgefield. The party already recognised in Refounding Labour to win that:


trade union members represent the wider society that needs to be heard in our party alongside our individual membership.

It is not, therefore, a big step for that voice to be heard again in the selection of candidates as well as in policy making and the election of the leader.

Today, of course, we have one-member one-vote (OMOV) elections in both the Labour party and the trade unions. The growth of the internet and social media has helped to reduce the interference of media barons on our internal affairs, which was always a critical objection to OMOV voting. The move towards OMOV voting was a significant cultural change for trade unions both within the party and in their internal structures, and the transition was not helped by some of the requirements of government legislation, which amongst other things fails to take account of the fact that unions organise people in their workplaces and not in their homes. There is therefore no return to the days of indirect elections or selections and no-one is arguing that we should make that return.

It would not be a simple matter to identify levy-payers by constituency, but it is not impossible. The Unite political strategy, focussing on the recruitment of individual levy payers to the party, already recognises the benefit of individual union member participation in party affairs although nor does it discount the importance of collective participation through the affiliation of trade unions, nationally, regionally and locally. As Jennie Formby, Unites’s new political director points out, as members of the Labour party:

they are free to choose either to follow or ignore the union’s recommendations on who to vote for as parliamentary candidates.

That is just as true whether they are affiliated members voting in elections and selections, or individual members.

Of course rival political parties and hostile voices in the press and media continually question the
role of trade unions and of their members within our party. But Labour’s members are well aware that the party was founded by the trade unions as a federal body, and this gives the Party its underlying strength and is precisely why the union link is always being questioned by our political enemies.

Just as it is right to ensure that we have more working class candidates representing Labour in parliament, so it is right that we have more working class people involved in the selection – indeed the two objectives are natural parters and self-reinforcing.




  1. Jon Williams says:

    Agree, Labour wouldn’t exist without trade unions and they should continue to coexist. My worry is the negative reaction in the mainstream media and lack of clear rebuttal from Labour’s side. The perception unfortunately is a union stitch up…

  2. It’s an interesting idea but the problems are as follows.

    Firstly individual Union levy payers already get a say in internal selections via the shortlisting nomination system – see here

    Secondly individual Union levy payers dont pay as much into the party as signed up members

    Thirdly there is the problem that if you allow the two to vote in proportion to their mathematical contribution the maths could be quite complicated. Difficult not impossible.

    Fourthly. In the leadership election a party member’s vote was worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote was worth 0.00000943 per cent due to the difference in fiscal contribution. Is it worth it? Maybe in say Croydon North where the final selection was decided by 1 vote. But by my calculations you’d need 21 union members to make up the same financial contribution of 1 party member. If the average CLP has 300 members you’d need say 630 Union levy payers to exercise their power to have any effect.

    Fifthly on a practical level it’s very important MPs get on with local activists.

    Sixthly at the moment you can get more affiliation votes by joining more and more affiliated organisations – technically you can buy up to another 1/3 of a member vote if you join enough organisations …although paying all the membership fees would be financially punative to the point it would probably be illogical. The NEC is looking into this

    Seventhly Entryist tactics such as those used in Falkirk were easily stopped when I joined the party by not allowing very recently joined members to vote. These tactics (made famous by the Militant Tendency in the 80s and 90s) are nothing new and as old as the hills. Really it should be obvious when someone is trying them. As it has been. So to a great extent the system is actually working … it could probably work better … but we shouldn’t run away screaming because of some Tory propaganda. They dont even pretend to internal democracy and need reminding of this eternally and publically.

    Eighthly. Some people like me dont have a Union to join. Maybe the general workers unions might have me but I’d be a bit of a wally joining a union that cant defend me for the sake of an extra fraction of a vote. The union I could join is not affiliated to the party.

    Ninethly. You have to get the union members to the final selection hustings. One of the problems in Falkirk was when it reached this stage people started to realise that they hadn’t even known they were members of the party … would people who just happen to have a vote rather than have joined the party as full members actually turn out?

    It’s not a completely stupid idea but I cant see as it’s very practical. Might work though…

  3. Johnreid says:

    Gets into the tricky situation,where people get more than 1 vote though, Remember co-op, the Fabians,the Christian Labour Party, the lGbT members group, young labour all get votes, we’d get to the situation where 13 different votes were possible for election slide when Dobson stood against Livingstone in 2000

  4. Robert says:

    Easy one really tell Labour to stop taking money from the Unions, tell Unions to stop collecting the political levy and make the break let the Labour party stand or die on it’s own.

    Labour would then have to seek more money from it’s rich list, and the Union maybe could look at forming another political party, the old one is dead.

  5. Johnreid says:

    That’s a bit hypothetical Robert, look at 97 the only time when Labour only 20% of its finds form Labour, after that we introduced, the minimum wage, HrA EcHR and brought back unions for those at GCHQ, also those who were sacked after the miners strike got their redundancy money back,social chapter of the Maastrict treaty
    Among other things,
    Had it been a non union inspired Labour Party would they have done those things

    Would Len Mcklusky really want not to be in charge of his union if he ought he couldn’t influence the shape of the party,

  6. “Easy one really tell Labour to stop taking money from the Unions, tell Unions to stop collecting the political levy and make the break let the Labour party stand or die on it’s own.”

    Apart from the historical link with the Unions FPTP naturally creates a 2 and a half party system. This is a universally observable statistical fact. Therefore the two main parties will go after the two main funding blocks – which are the Unions and the Ultra Rich. Not a shock that the UK system divides along these lines. The only real solutions are state funding of political parties (which no one wants) or change the voting system. If Labour broke its link with the Unions then it would logically resemble the Liberal Democrats in structure. Eventually it would become another party – the Lib Dems? This would create a political vacuum that would be filled by whoever went after Labour’s renounced funding streams… the Lib Dems?

    Really if you want to change the political structure of the UK fundamental reform of the voting system would also be needed. The funding system is just a mirror of the voting system

  7. Johnreid says:

    Athony, but the Libdems don’t get their funding from the ultra rich

  8. Mr R, I know that is the point I am making. The ultra rich would not be interested in funding any party with a democratic structure. They are not stupid. That said there are, of course, a few rich lib dem donors…

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