Labour Divisions Resurface
Readers will recall that after Gordon Brown stepped down in 2010 the Labour Party held a leadership election in which the party membership and MPs voted for David Miliband but the votes of the Trades Unions pushed David’s brother Ed over the winning line. The Labour Party was therefore saddled with a leader who had not been voted for by its members or its elected representatives. Since Ed’s election the Trades Union funding for the party has amounted to more than 80% of all donations received and this generous support does not come without strings.
Until now the strings have not been very visible. The Labour Party has become to all intents and purposes a policy vacuum but the mood music has been pretty left wing, opposing every reform and every attempt to tackle the huge deficit which they left behind. It has been an oppositionist strategy which may score some points in the short term but does nothing to enhance the party’s, or Ed Miliband’s, image as a potential government in the eyes of the electorate. This has been reflected in recent opinion polls which have shown a narrowing of Labour’s lead, two-thirds of the electorate saying Miliband is not fit to be Prime Minister, and Labour falling behind the Conservatives on a number of key questions.
More interesting recently some of the key figures behind “New Labour” have broken cover and begun to speak out against Miliband and the party’s left-wards drift. Even three-time election winner Tony Blair has spoken out. He sounded a note of caution about the party’s tendency to “tack left on tax and spending or tack right on immigration and Europe”. His intervention was supported by other senior figures such as David Blunkett who criticised Miliband’s appearance of building policy “built on grievance”.
However, the real evidence of Union influence surfaced this week with a massive internal row over the selection of Labour candidate for the European Parliament elections next year. Party members are up in arms over attempts by major Trades Unions to stitch up the top seats on each list for themselves. Popular local candidates have been discarded leading to some members to resign from the party and others to raise complaints with the leadership. It is thought that the major unions the GMB, Unison and Unite have been working together on selection panels to stitch up the selections for their own people. As major donors to the party they are entitled to be part of the process to select candidates. One of my local Labour contacts tells me that there are concerns about the process in the South East region.
We will have to wait for the final selections to be published but the early indications are that Labour is going to have to deal with some unhappy members and possibly further resignations. The Unions are flexing their muscles and seem determined to extract their pound of flesh. Not a good start to their Euro election campaign!
UPDATE 25 Apr 13 – Arch left-winger Len McLusky, leader of the Unite Trade Union, has demanded that Ed Miliband sack Blairites from his Shadow Cabinet or face the loss of millions of Pounds of his union’s donations.