Thursday 21 November 2019

I may stop MPs having lucrative second jobs, says UK Labour leader

Labour leader Ed Miliband delivering a speech on One Nation Politics, at The St Bride Foundation in Fleet Street, London
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivering a speech on One Nation Politics, at The St Bride Foundation in Fleet Street, London

Ed 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.

In changes which could provoke a major clash with the union bosses who bankroll his party, Mr Miliband said he would reform the system of affiliating union members to Labour, introduce a code of conduct for would-be election candidates and introduce open primary elections for Labour's next candidate for London Mayor.


But he also laid down a challenge to the other parties, announcing that a Labour government would impose a limit on MPs' earnings from second jobs.


And he called for the reopening of stalled talks on the funding of political parties, repeating his offer to cap donations from individuals, businesses and trade unions.


Mr Miliband said that events in Falkirk - where the Unite union is accused of signing up more than 100 members, some of them without their knowledge, in the hope of fixing the selection for its preferred candidate - represented "part of the death-throes of the old politics".


The Labour leader said he wanted an "open, transparent and trusted" politics, which is the opposite of the "rightly hated" machine politics seen in the Scottish constituency as it chose a replacement for disgraced MP Eric Joyce.


Events in Falkirk had confirmed voters' "worst suspicions" that politicians are "in it for themselves", he said.


Mr Miliband said he did not want a change in the 1980s law which allows unions to maintain political funds to pursue campaigns, but 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.


"In the 21st century it just doesn't make sense for anyone to be affiliated to a political party unless they have chosen to do so."


The move threatens to cost Labour millions of pounds in donations, but Mr Miliband said it could also swell party membership from 200,000 to "a far higher number".


In a message to trade union members, he said: "I invite you to be at the centre of what this party does, day in, day out, at local level."


Mr Miliband announced he has appointed former Labour general secretary and union official Lord (Ray) Collins of Highbury to lead work on the introduction of the new system.


Lord Collins will also consider how the open primary process proposed for the London Mayoral candidate selection could be spread to other parts of the country.


Under Mr Miliband's proposals, any Londoner registering as a Labour supporter will be eligible to vote in the ballot to choose a candidate to replace Boris Johnson in 2016.


A new code of conduct will be drawn up to cover all applicants to be Labour parliamentary candidates , and there will be a spending limit on selection processes for Westminster, European Parliament and leadership selection processes, he said.


Standard constituency agreements will be drawn up with trade unions, so that they can co-operate with Labour on a local level without allegations of undue influence.


In a surprise move, Mr Miliband announced that a Labour government would "at the very least" impose limits on MPs' outside earnings, to prevent some politicians earning many times their Westminster salaries from business or legal practice. And he said he would introduce new rules on conflicts of interest.


"The British people must be reassured that their MPs are working for them," he said. "Being an MP should not be a sideline. It's a privilege and a duty. And the rules must reflect that.


"And I urge other party leaders to respond to this call for changing the system."


Mr Miliband said: "What I have proposed today are big changes in the way we do our politics.


"There is no place in our party for bad practices wherever they come from.


"I am determined that we have a Labour Party that operates in a fair, open, transparent manner.


"I am determined we uphold the integrity of our party."


Mr Miliband received strong backing from his predecessor, Tony Blair, who admitted that he should have made the same reforms himself when he was Labour leader from 1994-2007.


"I think this is a defining moment, and I think it's bold and it's strong. It's real leadership," Mr Blair told Sky News before Mr Miliband's speech.


"I think it's important not only in its own terms, because he's carrying through a process for reform in the Labour Party that's long overdue - and, frankly, probably I should have done it when I was leader - but at the same time, what he is doing - and I think this is also very important for the country - is that he's sending a very strong message to the country that in the end he'll do what's right for all the country and not simply for one section of it.


"This is big stuff and it takes a real act of leadership to do it."


Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Government was ready to work with Labour to make the principle of an opt-in to the political levy law - and to allow union members to use the system to support parties other than Labour.


Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Clegg said: "My suggestion to Labour is, if they want to turn the words of their leader today into action, we are prepared to work with them, to use the forthcoming Third Party Funding Bill.


"It's a serious suggestion and offer to turn the principle of an opt-in on the political levy into law and indeed to give trade union members the right to support other parties if that is what they wish.


"It is an opportunity I hope they will take because it is time to turn words into actions."


Labour's former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott praised Mr Miliband's speech, comparing his proposals to the dramatic moves to introduce "one-member one-vote" (Omov) elections for the party leader under John Smith and end the Clause 4 commitment to nationalisation under Mr Blair.


In a message on Twitter, Lord Prescott said: "Great speech from Ed. Change is always controversial, like OMOV was 20 years ago & Clause 4 in '94. But let's have the debate! #BoldLabour."


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told the BBC News Channel: "It was certainly a bold and brave speech, and it may well be a historic one if Ed's vision comes to fruition.


"He seemed to be saying that he wanted to see tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of ordinary trade unionists actively playing an active role within the Labour Party. That's something I very much welcome.


"As far as Unite is concerned, we are more than happy to engage in the discussion with him."


Mr McCluskey said he wanted to see the details of Mr Miliband's proposals and would be "delighted" to discuss them with Lord Collins.


"I welcome any change," he said. "The one thing I am opposed to is the status quo. The current status quo is not acceptable and therefore new politics and a new relationship is something I am very comfortable about.


Mr McCluskey said Mr Blair's assessment of the speech as an "act of leadership" was "spot on", telling the BBC: "It's not often I agree with Tony Blair, but I think he might be absolutely correct."


The Unite leader played down the suggestion that the Miliband plan was designed to "tame" union barons, adding: "Ed Miliband has never been pushed around by me or any other trade union leaders. If you historically look at the role of the trade unions in the Labour Party, we've always been the anchor. It's the right wing of the party who've always split the party and gone away and created other parties, not trade unions.


"This image that the media try to project about Ed being pushed around by Len McCluskey or any other trade union general secretary is nonsense. It makes good copy but it's not the reality."


He added: "The real question (is) what politics, what programme, is Ed Miliband going to put to the British people? Within Unite, and within the trade union movement in general, we are looking for a very radical alternative to the path to poverty and despair of the current Government. We want Ed to demonstrate that he is on the side of ordinary working people.


"That battle of ideas which has always existed in the Labour Party will continue. What we've heard today is an attempt by our leader - and he has shown clear leadership - to say let's make certain that we change our politics for the 21st century, get more people involved at grassroots level and see where that takes us."


Answering questions following his speech, Mr Miliband defended his choice of Lord Collins - a former TGWU assistant general secretary who helped steer the union into a merger with Amicus to create Unite - to oversee the reform process.


Mr Miliband said: "On Ray Collins, he is a respected former general secretary of the Labour Party. You have got to have somebody who not only knows the party's finances, knows the way these things work and is in a position to deliver change.


"From my discussions with him, he knows the changes I want and he will help deliver it."


The party leader said the opt-in model used by the Unison union was "in the right ball park" but said it was one of a number of systems that would be looked at.


"I've been very, very explicit and very, very clear about the system I want," he added.


"I want an individual, active choice to be made by individuals to become part of our party."


Asked if he would resign if he failed to push his plans through, Mr Miliband said: "We are going to get these changes.


"I'm absolutely determined that we are going to get these changes."


Mr Miliband left the way open for the review to examine trade union vote share.


He said: "I think that the changes we are announcing today are massive changes.


"Of course, Ray's review has to look at the wider implications of these changes."


The Labour leader said the open primaries reform he announced today could be used in Falkirk.


"We will definitely look at that," he said.


"The Falkirk situation is trouble enough, so (we) will proceed very, very cautiously."


Bob Crow, the general secretary of the transport union RMT, which is not affiliated to Labour, said: "When Tony Blair is wheeled out to underpin Ed Miliband's attack on the affiliated unions than you know that this is a panic move driven by the demands of big business and a right-wing media who would prefer that the working class have no voice at all.


"RMT was expelled from the Labour Party almost a decade ago and in that time we have actually increased our political influence as we have had the freedom to back candidates and parties who demonstrate clear support for this trade union and its policies.


"With this latest assault by Labour on the unions, the time is right to start building an alternative political party that speaks for the working people and the working-class communities that find themselves under the most brutal attack from cuts and austerity in a generation. Clinging to the wreckage of a Labour Party that didn't lift a finger to repeal the anti-union laws despite 13 years in power is a complete waste of time."

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News