By Simon Basketter
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Ed Miliband moves to weaken unions’ influence on Labour

This article is over 8 years, 11 months old
A bruising week of confrontations, accusations, attacks and withdrawals has exposed the Labour Party’s love-hate relationship with the big trade unions, writes Simon Basketter
Issue 2361
Labour leader Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband – weakening influence of unions in Labour (Pic: Ed Miliband)

Labour leader Ed Miliband has set out to seriously weaken trade union influence on the party.

Miliband is doing it under the guise of pledging to “open up the party”.

The most important plan is to try and break the collective influence of unions by introducing an individual opt-in for union members to join Labour.

The latest Miliband soundbite to cover the attack is that the unions’ relationship with Labour should be “mended not ended”. 

He wants a cap on the amount spent on selection campaigns for potential MPs as well as a new code of conduct for candidates.

This is a way of watering down the level of influence the union leaders have on the Labour Party. 

It would reduce money spent on Labour but more importantly it would reduce even further the influence unions have over Labour policy or candidate selection.


The crisis started in Falkirk in Scotland. The party suspended an MP candidate selection contest and said it would hand its report over vote-rigging claims to police. 

The Unite union was accused of “fixing” the selection of a candidate by paying for dozens of people to join the party.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the Labour inquiry was a “shoddy fraud”.

He accused Miliband of “playing into the hands of the Tories”. He also said he would not apologise for trying to get more working class people elected and “reclaim” Labour from an “out-of-touch elite”.

Labour has been treating unions like embarrassing relatives for years. 

The Tories love it, of course. Union “barons” roaming the land is a helpful distraction from lobbying scandals.

The unions are keeping Labour afloat while being told that a Miliband government will stick to Tory spending limits and reverse few, if any, of the cuts. 

There is a struggle going on for what passes for Miliband’s soul. 

The Blairites who congregate around the cabinet table regard the “union link” as a vote-loser. 

In their world, it is always useful for a Labour leader to pick a fight with the left. 

Bankrolled by Lord Sainsbury they want to achieve what Tony Blair couldn’t—to break with the unions all together. 

Miliband soon backed off after initially briefing the press that this was the plan.

Union leaders want to pull Miliband to the left. But as the latest mess shows, that isn’t easy or likely.


Unite-friendly Tom Watson MP quit as election coordinator during the row. 

Afterwards he said, “Looking at how the unions organise within the Labour Party, I generally think they’re pretty hopeless. I don’t think there’s many trade union activists who get much of a say these days.”


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