Jon Lansman previews the Labour Party special conference on March 1.
AT THE TIME OF WRITING, it is not yet clear what the Collins report on the relationship between the trade unions and the Party will contain. The objective of Ray Collins and the leadership is to bring within a few years a significant reduction in the unions’ vote at Labour Party Conference and their representation throughout the Party. The “principle” of opting-in was only ever a means to that end.
It seems that the overwhelming view of constituency parties, as well as of all the trade unions, is hostile to change. Not that Lord Collins will have read many of the submissions. Labour’s consultation processes involve no more listening than its policy process.
A possible gamechanger was the decision by Unite’s executive to oppose any proposal which did not protect collective affiliation and protect the level of votes and representation of trade unions throughout the party structure. This paved the way for a united stance by the unions, which could then, with the support of some CLPs, be able to prevent any unwanted change.
But the devil is in the detail. Will the report, not yet written, (and accompanying rule changes) contain any hidden bombshells? That was exactly what happened with Refounding Labour, where a generally neutral or even mildly progressive package revealed much to oppose in details – like the strengthening of powers and weakening of accountability of local council leaders, buried in hundreds of rule changes presented as a single package.
One bombshell is likely to be some form of primary for selecting the London Mayor, though Unite and several other unions are opposed to this too. And Londoners have never been consulted.
The fact that the special conference session is to last only two hours may not be a problem if there is an acceptable deal between the party leadership and the unions. But it will be a major problem if we are presented with a complex package of changes, some of which are undesirable, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis with a single vote. Two hours will be enough for speeches from Ray Collins and Ed Miliband, but perhaps only a dozen delegates.
So there is no room for complacency in the run up to the conference at London’s Excel Centre. We may well need to mobilise opposition to all or part of what is proposed and attendance by CLP delegates is essential. But even if we are satisfied by the outcome of the conference, all that we have achieved is to prevent a damaging change. We may preserve the collective voice of the trade unions, but no one is listening to it. There is far to go before we have the internal democracy so necessary to really regain for trade unions some influence in the party they created.