Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union, has said that Ed Miliband’s reforms of party funding will give his union more power over the party.
Under the plans, which were approved today, union members will no longer be automatically affiliated to the party but will instead be able to “opt-in” to Labour party membership. They will still be asked to pay about £8 for their union’s “political fund”, but £3 of this will only go to the Labour party if they choose to opt-in to party membership.
The reforms also see the introduction of a one-member-one-vote system for electing party leaders, replacing the complex electoral college system that has existed up to now.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr McCluskey said that the reforms would give his union more spare money, which it could withhold from the Labour party at will, effectively holding it to ransom if it adopts a policy that he disagrees with.
When asked whether this means he will have more “clout” over the party, he said: “That’s exactly what it means. We would obviously have more money in our political fund, and we are able to make donations.”
Ed Miliband was elected to the Labour leadership after three major unions – Unite, the GMB and Unison – urged their members to vote for him. This gave him a small but crucial lead over his elder brother David, who was seen as being more of a centrist.
Mr Miliband was forced to consider reforming the unions’ influence, however, after a scandal in Falkirk, where Unite tried to influence the selection of the party’s parliamentary candidate.
The Labour party was founded in 1900 by a group of trade unions in order to provide a political force that would represent the newly enfranchised working classes. Within 25 years, it had formed its first government and displaced the Liberals and the main party on the centre-left.
Since the 1980s, however, the party has become dominated by wealthier metropolitan liberals, leading some to argue that it has lost touch with its working class roots.