LABOUR Party leader Miliband stepped up his attacks on the trade unions yesterday, announcing plans to end the automatic ‘affiliation’ fee paid by three million trade union members to the Labour Party.
Standing in front of a Union Jack background with ‘One Nation Labour’ written on it, Miliband announced the changes would be introduced as ‘soon as possible’ and definitely before the next general election.
The affiliation fees – where members of unions affiliated to the party pay an automatic levy to Labour unless they opt out, are worth about £8m a year to Labour.
Miliband said: ‘In the 21st century, it just does not make sense for anyone to be affiliated to a political party unless they have chosen to do so.’
Miliband called for ‘primaries’, where all adults, not just party members, can vote for the selection of a candidate in their constituency.
He said such a system will definitely be used to select Labour’s candidate for the London mayor in 2016 – anyone in the capital who registers as a Labour supporter would get a vote, he said. Miliband also said there should be curbs on the amount that MPs could earn from outside interests and rules to stop conflicts of interest.
‘Being an MP is not a sideline. It is a privilege and a duty and the rules should change to reflect that,’ he said.
Former prime minister and Labour leader Blair backed Miliband’s plan, describing the changes as a ‘defining moment’ for the party.
‘It is bold and strong. It is real leadership,’ he said. ‘I think it is important not only in its own terms but . . . he is carrying through a process of reforms in the Labour Party that are long overdue and probably I should have done when I was leader.’
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow responded: ‘When Tony Blair is wheeled out to underpin Ed Miliband’s attack on the affiliated unions then 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.’
Dave Wiltshire, National Secretary of the All Trade Unions Alliance, said: ‘It’s despicable. ‘The unions should cease funding these right wingers.’