GE2015 plus 10: united we stand?

Posted: 17 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

There was an interesting story in today’s Sunday Times. Well, that is, I suppose news in itself, but the story at its heart was shit stirring about the forthcoming Labour Party leadership election, suggesting that “the unions” are exploiting a loophole in the rules for who’s allowed to vote. To understand why this is important, it’s useful to know that the rules under which the new leader of the labour Party will be elected have changed since Ed Miliband (the former leader who resigned the day after the election) acceded to the position in 2010.

When he was elected leader, the electorate was split into three, one-third each. There were the Labour MPs and MEPs, Individual members of the party, and individual members of affiliated organisations, (such as trade unions). Each third would constitute 33.33% of the final vote.

This has now been replaced with a straight ‘one member one vote’ system, where individual party members as well as ‘registered’ and ‘affiliate’ members. Affiliate and registered members have to pay a small one-off fee to be part of the electorate. The story then in the Sunday Times is that trade unions are trying to ensure that as many of their members become affiliated members so they can vote. I see nothing wrong with this whatsoever. Even leaving aside the long and detailed relationship between the party and the trades union system, it surely cannot be but for the benefit of the party to increase the electorate to catch the greatest possible of voters.

Where I’m less sure of my ground – and the unions’ propriety – is that under the rules, the member themselves doesn’t have to pay the affiliation fee; that can be paid by the union. Now, that may well be within the rules, but I fail utterly to see how in any way, that’s within the spirit of one member one vote. It’s not beyond the wit of man to see that if someone’s paying for you to be able to vote, they want you to vote in a specific way. And can tell you so. Again, while that’s within the letter of the rules, I cannot see how it’s within the spirit.

So what? I hear you cry. It’s within the rules, and the rules were carefully drawn up to avoid precisely this appearance of the unions shoving their weight into the contect. So, they knew what they were doing and it’s all lovely and no problems whatsoever.

Yeah, there is a problem. A huge whacking great problem: “it’s within the rules” is the worst possible reason for doing anything except for “I was just following orders”.

MPs expenses? Well, except for the few (and they were a few) who broke the law, all the other claims – proper or not, honourable or not, dodgy or not – were “within the rules”. When people complained about bankers getting huge pensions and payouts, they were “within the rules”.

Oh and don’t forget tax avoidance, the very exemplar of ‘it’s within the rules”. I don’t see too many trades unions saying that’s a good enough reason for tax avoidance.

Hence my concern. Of course Unions should be able to give their recommendations as to who they’d like to be the next Labour Party leader; I’m fairly astonished that’s even in dispute. Everyone and every organisation is entitled to not only supply their opinion, but to publicise it as well.

I’m just uneasy about anyone leaving the impression that they’re buying votes. Apart from being a gift to the right-wing press who never need another reason to take a pop at the unions or Labour, it just smells bad.

We’re not even at the stage where nominations have formally opened. And already, I can see this is going to be very complicated. Labour have a habit of airing their dirty laundry in public, which I suppose is better than pretending everything is fine, but is it really impossible for people involved, for the unions, the candidates and their supporters, to fight for their party without leaving festering wounds? If not, those wounds will last for years… until the next election and after.

  1. This all plays into the usual media agenda that the unions run the Labour Party. Actually union money is the cleanest in politics. Firstly because it comes from millions of political levy payers who have to vote for their trade union to have a political fund but also have the absolute right not to contribute to it.

    Once the money is raised every donation is listed and audited. Individual politicians never receive the money only local parties. Unite pioneered the additional step that every Labour constituency receiving a donation must agree an action plan with the union on how it is spent and that plan is available to all party members to read and agree.

    No donations to any other British political party are scrutinised and policed so well. Even LibDem proposals for state funding didn’t have those safeguards and transparency.

    The electoral college took over from only MPs voting. MPs have a veto on all candidates by simply not nominating. Ed Milliband got enough MPs to nominate him. Actually left candidates like Diane Abbott and others were struggling to get nominations in 2010. Each MP vote in the college was worth thousands of members and tens of thousands of trade union members. David Milliband had it in the bag. It was true that Ed got more support in the TU section than David but quite literally hundreds of thousands of individual votes were needed.

    David Milliband thought he would get over 50% on first preferences. Ed’s team also had a second and third preference strategy to pick up votes when other contenders were eliminated. That’s why Ed won.

    The biggest losers in the new system are the MPs. They are now ordinary members.

    In the new scenario the trade unions need to hand the names and addresses of Labour supporters to the Labour Party with the cash for their affiliated membership. These individuals have paid into the political fund. It is the only fund the trade unions use to pay political parties by law. So the trade unions have to pay money from that fund for each named person to the Labour Party so they can vote. The trade unions are not buying votes they are handing over the money for each member they have that wants the status of an affiliate member. That is the correct legal process.

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