Interesting to see Andy Burnham this morning criticise union influence on the selection process for the next Labour leader. (UPDATE: Burnham has denied the BBC’s report). Especially given that only recently he told a website called Unions Together that he wanted to maintain union influence within the party.
“Trade unions, like the Labour party, have a proud past and a bright future. They are at the heart of the labour movement and under my leadership I want them to be at the heart of the Labour party too….That means closer ties to the trade union movement, not just at the top of the Party, but from constituencies up.”
Except now Burnham wants to give the unions less influence over the party and its selection process. (UPDATE – or perhaps not.)
Where Burnham does have widespread sympathy is his contention that MPs nominations should not have to be made public. This, he rightly argues, means that ambitious members are more likely to back whoever is in the lead near the end of the race in order to stay in favour with the next leader. The rule making nominations public goes back decades and is to prevent MPs backing one candidate while telling their constituency they are backing another.
Tonight at the TUC conference in Manchester, at 5.30pm, is the final hustings of the Labour leadership candidates as the race reaches its last few laps. I’ll be there. The dilemma for the leading candidates is how to play the issue of unions and industrial action.
If either Miliband gives whole-hearted backing for militant action they may pick up more support for the leadership – while alienating some crucial supporters in Middle England. The reverse is also true. When David Miliband believed he was far ahead he could have avoided that Catch-22 decision and sat on the fence. WIth the brothers seemingly neck and neck, that becomes more of a gamble.
Incidentally, you may remember at the start of the contest there was a row between Unite the Union and the Labour leadership because the former wanted to send out an envelope with its endorsement alongside the ballot papers. They were prevented by the party general secretary.
But what transpired was this; Unite sent out a big envelope containing its Ed Miliband endorsement with the voting papers in a separate envelope within. In other words, the leaflet backing Mili-E was the first thing that members saw when the mail arrived.
Union insiders say private polling shows their members breaking convincingly for Ed. Then again, to say otherwise would be to admit that there is a limit to their power. We’ll find out any day soon.