By Simon Basketter
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Warwick forum: Bailing out Brown in return for empty policy promises

This article is over 13 years, 6 months old
Labour will hold its national policy forum at Warwick university on Friday, the day after the Glasgow East by-election.
Issue 2111

Labour will hold its national policy forum at Warwick university on Friday, the day after the Glasgow East by-election.

This will see the trade unions handing over funds to Labour in return for policy promises that the government will not keep.

The first “Warwick agreement” was in 2004. It saw Labour make more than 50 pledges in return for £10 million.

Most of the unions’ demands were ignored – and they look set to be ignored again.

Yet the commitment of union leaders to Labour means they play along with a bizarre pretence of “consultation” over policy.

The policy forum is supposed to be the last vestige of democracy in the Labour Party, since the annual party conference doesn’t discuss motions anymore.

A cryptic process called Partnership in Power allows amendments to be put to policy documents. In the run-up to the forum over 4,000 proposals were put in by constituency parties and the unions.

Labour’s leaders simply refuse to discuss the majority of these. But the desire for union money means that Gordon Brown has to at least discuss some of the union amendments.

Union requests include simplifying strike ballots, allowing members to vote by email, extending apprenticeships and raising the minimum wage for younger workers.

They also want to allow workers with sick children to take time off and extend the rights of low-paid workers to sick pay.

But even these modest proposals look likely to be rejected. Brown has already made it clear there will be “no return to the 1970s, 1980s or even 1990s when it comes to union rights”.

Private donations to the Labour Party have shrivelled to a tenth of their level a year ago. The unions are now paying 90 percent of Labour’s bills.

The problem for Labour is keeping trade union leaders on side while pursuing policies that attack their members. The threat of the Tories is proving helpful in this.

One general secretary told the Financial Times, “If we withdraw funds or try to use them as a lever to win support for specific policies, we will only ensure that David Cameron wins the next election.”

But as Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union, said in the run-up to the forum – perhaps not realising the truth of his words – “There is no point backing a Labour Party that does not support Labour policies.”

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