It has been a hard week for Labour Party members. There has been plenty of food for thought, and on the horizon we are all sure there will be reforms that will have to be swallowed. Reforms that will take added shape and increased media coverage over the coming days, weeks and ultimately months. Reforms that will ultimately shape the way the Labour Party works, reforms that will dictate our income and power in the future. Reforms that will – without a doubt – determine whether we will win or lose the next general election.
The tidal wave that rocked the Labour ship arrived in the form of union power and funding of the Labour Party. The Falkirk disaster, where Unite the Union was accused of bending the rules in order for its preferred candidate to be selected, is leading the way for attack after attack upon the organisations which have been the beating heart of the Labour Party for a hundred years. The Labour Party cannot allow itself to become the party of apologies. We should be proud of our union link, and fight to preserve an historic and special relationship that means we never lose touch with union members across the country. What happened in Falkirk broke the rules. Yet there is some hypocrisy in the way the Labour Party has acted on this matter. Whilst condemning Unite’s tactics of paying for membership, its own ‘+1’ scheme allows members to pay for or invite other family members and friends to join the party. In addition, all new membership has to be accepted by the invited party, therefore making them fully aware of any voting taking place in the constituency Labour Party.
The new reforms announced by Ed Miliband mid-week are also causing a stir amongst grass-root supporters around the country. Grass-root supporters are no longer Blairite, Liam Byrne-like supporters. We want and deserve a new identity that is definitely left-of-centre, if not further left. This means announcing policies in support of the EU, the living wage and the welfare state and against austerity in most forms. The reforms announced by Ed Miliband include flipping the ‘opt-out’ rule in to the ‘opt-in’ rule. This is a dangerous move. Supported by the Conservatives, this reform will ultimately destroy and “bring to an end” the trade union link, according to the leader of the GMB Union. Where is the choice of opting-in when you buy a loaf of Warburtons or other goods whose owners have supported the Conservatives? There is none. It is no secret that Labour receives large sums through unions. Unions which support having a political fund - unions which the poorest and those on the lowest pay rely on the most- unions whose voice should be heard fairly throughout the party. Unions who also represent growing parts of the private sector and, in such times of unfair, unequal and unjust austerity, are needed more than ever.
The coming weeks will test Ed Miliband. Is he the leader of the party of the people, or just another privileged wannabe-Prime Minister? Clear and direct leadership is required at this delicate moment in our party’s history. Leadership that will not only retain but revive the important union link that – in the eyes of many Labour members and supporters – was lost in the Blair years, and was another factor in the defeat at the 2010 General Election. The Union movement is one we should be proud of, one which should be a cornerstone of our party – a link to the outside world. We should cherish it, not destroy it.
By James Wand