Posts Tagged ‘Labour leadership’

How Unite members swung behind Ed Miliband

Saturday 25 September 2010

Much will be made in coming weeks and months of the fact that Ed Miliband only beat his brother David for the Labour leadership because of the votes of affiliates – mostly, but not exclusively, trade union members. And it’s true that Unite, the biggest union and Ed M supporter, pulled out all the stops for him, even printing pictures of him on some of the envelopes containing the ballot papers they sent out.

That aside, what looks set to emerge in the union-by-union voting figures is that Unite members must have taken the hint.

A few weeks ago, Team Ed M visited Unite’s co-headquarters in London’s Covent Garden to do some telephone canvassing. They contacted 850 Unite members – over 5 per cent 0.05 per cent of the total membership, not a bad sample size by opinion poll standards.

Of the 850, over 500 said they’d vote for the younger Miliband. The second most popular choice was ‘don’t know’ and the third most popular ‘not voting’. The remaining candidates did pretty badly in the sample’s estimation.

Update: I should point out, not all the membership were balloted, as they’re not all political levy payers. So the ‘sample’ was actually bigger than 0.0005 per cent. The point stands. However the figures now show that Unite members didn’t vote quite as uniformly as the phone poll suggests – although a majority of Unite voters did vote for Ed Miliband.

(from Tribune blog)


Why Jon Cruddas has got his hand (slightly) bitten

Thursday 2 September 2010

Jon Cruddas and Sam TarryJon Cruddas, the nearly man in Labour’s 2007 deputy leadership contest and who decided not to run for leader this time, has put a few noses out of joint since he announced he was backing David Miliband last week. Since before his campaign for deputy leader, Cruddas has been the figurehead on which many on the left and centre-left of Labour have pinned their hope, including the membership of Compass.

The latest Cruddas supporter to criticise his decision is Sam Tarry, national chair of the 20,000-strong Young Labour, who writes on The Guardian’s Comment is Free today about why Ed Miliband is the better option. He writes:

“David Miliband’s reluctance to repudiate a single significant policy decision from the New Labour era is indicative of an unwillingness to move to a future beyond it, a future that many in Young Labour and the wider party have already seen. It will not lead to the creation of the “good society”.

It is because of this that I believe that Jon Cruddas, my closest political mentor has called it wrong; it runs counter to his own “Choose change” deputy leadership campaign in 2007 and to the body of work and support in the party he has built.”

Being slagged off by his close ally Jon Trickett was bad enough, but this latest repudiation comes from someone who – as Tarry says – he has politically reared for some time. Tarry has long worked closely with Jon Cruddas – literally in fact; as an organiser for the anti-BNP Hope not Hate, we works out of the same Dagenham office as Cruddas’ constituency HQ. Until now, I haven’t been able to put a cigarette paper between them.

This difference of opinion between Cruddas and his supporters points up three things. Firstly, Jon Cruddas is not a straightforward leftwinger. He did, after all, vote for the Iraq war and 90 days’ detention.  The former deputy political secretary to Tony Blair has often in the past flagged up policies to the left of the last Labour government, but recently he’s sought to do something a bit more sophisticated and work out what sort of shape, structure and character the Labour party should have. To the chagrin of some, he says David Miliband is on the same sort of track.

Secondly, there aren’t many standard bearers on the Labour left. Diane Abbott and John McDonnell have limited appeal to party activists. As such, many turn to Cruddas as a reasonable-sounding alternative to the leadership line. But they can end up frustrated: he didn’t challenge Gordon Brown’s changes to party rules in 2007 which abolished potentially embarrassing votes at conference. “The jury’s out,” he said when I asked him about it at the time for a Tribune interview.

After my interview was published online, several people on the Compass website said it wasn’t very good (check the comments thread). Their anger seemed to boil down to one thing: Cruddas wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear. So instead they had a go at me for not distilling their mentor’s words properly. Fine by me – but I wasn’t going to put words in his mouth.

Thirdly, Cruddas doesn’t really want high office. This year, he canvassed opinion among unions as to whether he should run. The leadership of Unite and the CWU were supportive – and it seems he was actually frightened off by the chance of winning. He preferred to influence the debate than to take the crown – well, that and prepare the ground for becoming an elected party chair, as he has said.

Is Ed Miliband about to get into bed with John McDonnell?

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Since the Labour leadership contest kicked off, the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaision Organisation, which goes between the party and its 15 affiliated unions has been sending questions to the candidates, including on industrial issues. Many of the answers have been, well, inconsequential in the wider context of the party’s future.

But not this time. Ed Miliband’s camp has (belatedly) responded to a question about the UK’s trade union laws, often called the strictest in Western Europe (including, as Ed Williams says in Tribune this week, by Tony Blair). The questioner asked: “What one restriction do you think most urgently needs lifting and why?”

Ed Miliband’s reply was received today, and in it he says:

“I am determined to make sure that the Trade Unions are able to fairly represent the interests of their members and the wider workforce. Of course industrial action is a last resort, but the right to strike is a fundamental human right which must be protected and I will make sure it is. The British Airways dispute showed that the rules governing strike ballots are in urgent need of reform.”

Brother David – the only other serious frontrunner, according to commentators and the Labour Uncut blog, has said no such thing, and merely comments on unions being a good thing.

Lefty Labour MP John McDonnell has a private member’s bill on this very subject, which seeks to extend legal protection for unions who have ballots for industrial aciton, in order to prevent more British Airways-style injunctions. So I asked his team if he intended to support the bill.

A spokesperson replied that he hasn’t seen the bill, but added: “I do know that he is indeed concerned with the rules governing strike ballots and that technicalities should not interfere with democratic balloting processes.”

Of the other candidates, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott also says strike law should be looked at, and Ed Balls says unions should have better access to workers who want to join.

(from Tribune blog)

Unite poised to back Ed Miliband

Sunday 25 July 2010

It is (as I have repeatedly, punctiliously and exhaustively been told) a three stage process – but the first two stages are complete, with only the third to run. Unite’s national political committee met today to decide a recommendation for Britain’s biggest union©’s choice for leader of the Labour party.

Feedback came in from the regional political committees. Political officers, led by the mighty Charlie Whelan, hung around waiting. And around 2pm, they emerged with the result: Ed Miliband. And that’s almost certainly who Unite’s executive, meeting on Monday, will back.

Why? Because the feeling towards Ed M was, I am told “overwhelming support – like huge!”

I’ll leave the analysis of how much this helps the younger Ed steal a march on his brother to others. For now, suffice to say that at least one of Unite’s two joint general secretaries was inclined to support him already – but he’s the one who’s leaving at the end of this year. The other is keeping schtum, as I reported earlier.

For those who thought Unite would support Ed Balls because they expected Charlie Whelan to move heaven and earth to get him nominated as the ‘Gordon Brown Mk 2’ candidate (their words, my, er, paraphrasing), this is a bit of a slap in the face.

But aside from the issue of whether Whelan did try to do this or not, could it be (and this is pure speculation I admit) that Ed M, who worked so close to Brown as chief economic adviser at the Treasury, is also smiled on by Brownites.

Update: Just after writing those words I came across this by ex-Hazel Blears special adviser Paul Richards:

“It seems unlikely that Unite, the last big union to declare, will back Ed Balls next week. Most of the Brownites (what Kevin Maguire calls the Talibrown) are not supporting him. The former team around Brown at No10 – Stewart Wood, David Muir and others – are supporting, not Balls, but Ed Miliband”

Paul Kenny: New Labour treated me like incontinent relative

Thursday 10 June 2010

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny doesn’t do scripted speeches. No ‘check against delivery’ – the speech is the delivery. And his address to the GMB’s annual congress in Southport yesterday morning was colourful in its spontaneity. Warning that Labour should not treat unions like “elderly relatives who wet themselves”, he added: “That’s how I felt about New Labour. I felt we were almost the aged relatives they didn’t want to admit, but were having to visit every now and again.”

Kenny was speaking the day after the union held Labour Party leadership hustings, where all candidates except David Miliband apologised for one or another policy aspect of the previous 13 years of Labour government. And after Ed Balls had written an article for the Observer backing the GMB demand to subject free movement of EU labour to nationally agreed pay and conditions – the Lindsey Oil Refinery policy, if you will.

On the other hand, the leadership candidate who most vociferously backed GMB policy yesterday – John McDonnell – has now dropped out

(from Tribune blog)

Unite to tell Labour MPs: nominate more candidates

Thursday 3 June 2010

Unite’s policy conference has this morning overturned the recommendations of its own executive council, and passed an unusually strong motion calling on MPs who are members of Unite to nominate a broader range of candidates for the Labour leadership. Currently, the only candidates with enough nominations to run are the two Milibands and Ed Balls. Pressure is building from unions for more left-wing candidates (i.e. John McDonnell and Diane Abbott) to get on the ballot paper. Not necessarily because they want them to be leader, but to influence the debate.

It’s significant: if those two get on, the other candidates will probably be challenged on how much they support giving more rights and freedoms to trade unions, and rolling back privatisation – what some sections of the media might be inclined to call a lurch to the left.

This is in line with the executive council member who told me that a Labour leadership contest restricted to “those three fuckers” wasn’t good enough.

That motion in full, as Private Eye would say:

Sadly our Party, the Party of working people is now in opposition after losing the General Election in May. One of the big issues used by both the Tory Party and the Media that support them is that our then Party leader had not been elected as either the leader of our country or even as leader of our Party.

We must never again allow the Labour Party to be in the position of being portrayed as undemocratic or secretive. We must ensure that there is an open and transparent debate encompassing all the political views from within the party. To do this we must ensure that all declared candidates for the Labour Party leadership receive sufficient nominations to be on the ballot paper so that the next leader can be chosen by all those who are entitled to have a say in the future of the Labour Party and not just by 255 people in Westminster.

Conference call on the EC to request that members of Unite’s Parliamentary Group use their nominations in a way that ensures all candidates receive sufficient nominations. To be able to stand in the leadership election and thus allow the members and affiliates a say in the democratic election of the next Party leader.

Now will the parliamentary group – which includes such renowned rabid leftwingers as, er, Tony McNulty [update: actually he lost his seat], Shaun Woodward and Douglas Alexander – take heed? Even if they don’t, I suspect the right wing blogosphere won’t be impressed.

Hat-tip: Ian’s Unite Site

Unite to challenge John Prescott for Labour treasurer?

Monday 31 May 2010

You read it here first. As Tribune reported last week, John Prescott (who incidentally is to be made a lord) is to stand for the treasurership of the Labour Party – an elected position on the party’s national executive committee which normally sees them in charge of fundraising but doesn’t make them legally in charge of accounts.

But the unions are far from pleased. The view within Unite, Labour’s biggest donor, and perhaps elsewhere, is that the role belongs to the unions: the outgoing treasurer Jack Dromey was deputy general secretary of Unite, from the T&G section, his predecessor Jimmy Elsby was also a T&G official and his predecessor Margaret Prosser worked for Unison was as well.

In the fag-end of my weekend off work, I heard that Unite is going to stand a candidate against Prescott, who is not thought to have consulted the brothers a great deal.

Will Prescott (who does seem very keen on the job) stand down? Who knows? But union hackles have already been raised over mooted Labour plans to stop them promoting their favoured Labour leadership candidates, and the powerful Unite political director Charlie Whelan doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. (Well, except on holiday to the World Cup in South Africa. I’ll stop now, it’s past my bedtime and I seem to be turning into a poor man’s Kevin Maguire…)

This should be an interesting battle. Watch this space.

P.S. Labour’s general secretary (and legal treasurer) Ray Collins, who will be in the thick of said fight, is of course a former senior official of… Unite.

Update: Thanks to Tony below for pointing out Prosser worked for the T&G. Like Prescott, she has just been given a peerage.

Labour leader can influence Unite election, but not the other way round

Thursday 20 May 2010

Bill MorrisFirst Labour, now Unite: Britain’s biggest union has finally agreed a timetable for electing its first single leader this year. I say “finally”; admittedly it was agreed last Thursday, but only at the very end of Unite’s three-day executive council meeting, and in a bit of a rush I hear.

They’ve opted for an even longer timetable than Labour has for the leadership (see below). I mention Labour because what this means is that Labour will have a leader in place before Unite members even start voting.

Candidates will have from 1 July to 5 September the end of August to nominate themselves. Ballot papers will be sent out from October, and the ballot will run to the end of the month. Curiously, though the count takes place at the end of October, the winner won’t be formally announced till 1 December. Time to allow for challenges and recounts? Who knows?

Anyway, it looks as though the new Labour leader will have a fair bit of time to throw their weight behind a candidate, overtly or covertly, if they so wish*. That’s not to say nobody in Unite has thoughts about who the next Labour leader should be, of course – Derek Simpson has suggested Ed Miliband in the past, and of course Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan are close, both having worked for Gordon Brown.

*If you think I’m exaggerating the effect a Labour leader could have, consider the 1995 re-election of Bill Morris as general secretary of the T&G (now part of Unite), when he beat Jack Dromey. Dromey’s perceived status as Tony Blair’s favourite candidate worked against him, and on winning Morris famously declared, “We have stopped a juggernaut in its tracks”. He meant New Labour.

More on Unite later…

Update: I am told that the nomination window is actually 1 July to 31 August, not until 5 September as I originally wrote. 5 Sept is the deadline for the nomination forms to be received.

Not everybody is happy. One leading participant in the election tells me: “Normal people will be scratching their heads at calling for nominations when many members will be with the kids as far from the daily grind of work as possible”  – i.e. during the school holidays.

Labour could give way over leadership timetable, and more developments

Wednesday 19 May 2010

So Labour decided not to have a deputy leadership contest. Or as one person present at the meeting of Labour’s national executive (which decided it on Tuesday) said: “I don’t think it’s something many people in the party give a toss about”.

That view is hotly contested by NEC member Peter Kenyon (see below) and others outside the NEC and parliamentary party, but in the end it wasn’t up to them. General secretary Ray Collins insisted tho the meeting that the party rule book was with him on this issue (again, pace Kenyon).

More interesting is the possibility that the decision to allow leadership hopefuls just nine days from yesterday to gather at least 34 nominations (the minimum to stand) will be overturned tomorrow at the meeting of the NEC procedures committee, as new blog Labour Uncut reports. Candidates have a window of just four days (Monday to Thursday next week) to submit those 34 names. I’m slightly irked I didn’t find this out – I knew the committee was meeting, but not that the decision might fall within their purview.

Three influential MPs have already spoken out against the short nomination period – left-winger John McDonnell, backbencher and not-leadership-but-maybe-something-else candidate Jon Cruddas and Gordon Brown’s former parliamentary private secretary Jon Trickett, who told me today the decision was “deeply regrettable”.

As widely reported, Labour will unveil its new leader on 25 September – the eve of party conference. And then elections for the Shadow Cabinet will begin – not before as I erroneously reported. I was mislead by the Labour party rule book which calls for elections as soon as possible after a general election – but then it also calls for other things which get ignored every year…

Btw, further to the post below, Liam Byrne has been  in touch to say he has “no plans” to run for deputy leader. So now you know.

Labour’s big election questions

Monday 17 May 2010

Media interest in the Labour party’s internal election plans grows; now Paul Waugh of the Standard is weighing in (and borrowing heavily from the blog of national executive committee member Peter Kenyon by the looks of it).

The key issues are: the elections for Labour’s new shadow cabinet (voted on by the parliamentary Labour party, 258 MPs) and the nature and timing of the leadership and deputy leadership election(s). The Labour NEC will tomorrow decide whether to have a) a summer leadership election or b) one which lasts till September, with the new leader announced at party conference.

Let’s be clear on one thing: elections for Labour’s shadow cabinet – pace Guido Fawkes – are going to happen pretty soon, almost certainly before even an early leadership contest. Party rules say there should be one as soon as practical after a general election. So if leadership candidates want to use a shadow cabinet position as a soapbox, they’d better get canvassing.

As for the leadership, Waugh reports:

“More than a few activists are wary of any attempt to fast-track the process, as are Jon Cruddas and Ed Balls. John Prescott has weighed in and said the party should play the “long game”.

Not just activists, a good deal of MPs too want to see a leadership contest that lasts till conference. And at least one union (see here). Fabian head honcho Sunder Katwala makes the reasoned case for a long contest here.

Plenty of backers of David Miliband, on the other hand, want to see a leader in place by July.

But here’s an extra dimension to the debate. I’m told that the Shadow Cabinet last Wednesday was asked by Harriet Harman for their views on the timetable. The overwhelming message from those gathered in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Shad Cab room in the Commons was this: let’s not hang around and let’s get on with this as soon as possible.”

I can also reveal that Tony Lloyd, who as outgoing chair of the PLP was the influential linkman between Brown and the backbenches, is in favour of a quick contest. He tells me: “Let’s get the leader in situ. We’re talking about two months – that’s longer than a general election contest. If leadership contestants can’t put forward a vision of Labour’s role [in that time]… Most of us would sooner go to the conference not for coronation of a new leader but as part of a campaigning process.” There was, he said, no need to wait till September.