Ed Miliband risks overseeing “the beginning of the end” of trade union links with the Labour party, a North East MP has claimed.
Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery said he is “disappointed” with proposals by the Labour leader which will see a review of the way union members pay towards the party and tough new rules on union involvement.
Mr Lavery, chair of the trade union group of MPs, told The Journal that while he supported Mr Miliband overall, he was “saddened” by his attempts to distance the party from unions.
“This risks being a disaster for the party,” Mr Lavery said. “I’m disappointed, absolutely disappointed, at his speech.
“It is an historic one but for all the wrong reasons, and in my view it risks being the beginning of the end of what has been a fantastically successful relationship between unions and the party.
“We all agree we need to work to see how that needs to change, to be updated, but this is not the right direction. I wanted to see the leader give a speech that says we can sort this not run away if someone criticises that relationship.”
Mr Lavery was speaking after the party leader announced he has appointed former Labour general secretary and union official Lord (Ray) Collins of Highbury to lead work on the introduction of a new system.
In a move which could cost the Labour party millions of pounds in donations, Mr Miliband has set out a series of reforms designed to reshape Labour’s relationship with the trade unions and end the “machine politics” behind the alleged ballot-rigging controversy in Falkirk.
Mr Miliband said he wanted to end the situation under which many unions hand over cash from the funds to Labour, unless members choose to “opt out”.
Instead, he said individual members should actively “opt in” to joining the party, saying: “I do not want any individual to be paying money to the Labour Party in affiliation fees unless they have deliberately chosen to do so.
“Individual trade union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated.”
While costing the party money, the move would also weaken the say unions have in party politics.
Former NUM president Mr Lavery was one of Mr Miliband’s key backers in the 2010 leadership battle. He resigned from his position as an aide to deputy leader Harriet Harman last year after fighting to protect prison staff pensions.
He added: “I was hoping there would be a review of how we work together, to make the relationship fit for the 21st Century with the understanding that there is a role for both sides to continue to work for the same goal.
“I’m not sure that is the case now. I think we are seeing a policy which will be seen as the beginning of the end of that relationship.
“It is right that trade unions have a say, they are speaking for bin men, for teachers, for the hard working men and women who make up their members.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “It was a bold and brave speech, and it may well be a historic one if Ed's vision comes to fruition. As far as Unite is concerned, we are more than happy to engage in the discussion with him.”
MILIBAND CALLS FOR CAP ON MPS’ OUTSIDE EARNINGS
MPs should face a cap on their outside earnings, Ed Miliband has said. In a surprise move the Labour leader made the pitch for a second jobs review while setting out his plans to change the party’s union links.
Mr Miliband laid down a challenge to the other parties, announcing that a Labour government would impose a limit on MPs’ earnings from second jobs and calling for the reopening of stalled talks on the funding of political parties.
He said: “Decades ago being an MP was often seen to be a second job.
“The hours of Parliament starting in the afternoon, so people could do other jobs in the morning. We have changed that. But there remains a problem, as recent episodes involving lobbying and outside interests have shown.
“The vast majority of all MPs have performed their duties properly within the rules. And raising this issue casts no doubt upon that. But we should question the rules.
“The question of MPs’ second outside jobs has been discussed but not properly addressed for a generation.”
Downing Street dismissed the second job proposals as “a smokescreen for the fact that, in the Prime Minister’s view, the leader of the opposition hasn’t actually gripped the issues he needs to grip“.