In a highly symbolic – and hugely political move – Ed Miliband is poised to weaken the union vote in future leadership contests for the Labour party. (Or strengthen other people’s, to put it another way.)
I can reveal* that Miliband wants to set up a “registered supporters scheme” allowing thousands of people to vote in future leadership elections. Their votes will be cast within the “affiliated organisations” section, which comprises a third of the total vote. (The other sections are MPs and party members).
This will be rubber-stamped at this morning’s meeting of the NEC (national executive committee). It then has to go through another NEC session on Saturday before passing through conference.
The obvious symbolism is that this is a dilution of the brothers’ power. As no one will ever forget, Ed won the leadership after the main unions clubbed together in his favour in a transparent attempt to thwart his elder brother.
But here is the catch. Last September some 247,339 trade union members voted in the election, most having been sent literature in the post. Another 127,331 members voted in their quorum.
How many people are there, realistically, who are interested enough in Labour politics to register as a “supporter” just to take part in the ballot – but not keen enough to actually join the party? Miliband’s team suggest that the figure will be “tens of thousands”. Perhaps. But simple maths would suggest that even a hundred thousand would only partially dilute the power of union members.**
And how hard would it be for someone with an advanced sense of mischief (Guido, perhaps?) to organise tens of thousands of people to vote for either the most rightwing candidate (Mili-D last time) or the most random (AbbottD last time)?
What else is in store?
I’m told that Miliband will get rid of the discredited system that allows people to have one more vote in leadership elections. If you belong to eight unions and the Fabian society, for example, that would currently give you nine votes. This is being swept away. (For MPs as well).
Lastly, there is the thorny issue that unions still control 50 per cent of the vote at Labour conference. I reported a few days ago that they intended to use that 50 per cent to stop the dilution of this particular power. That seems to be the case; the issue will not be resolved at this conference.
* Technically @Oflynnexpress got there first on Twitter. Or Jon Craig on Sky. Or Patrick Wintour at the Guardian perhaps.
** Have resisted the urge to call it a “trade union block vote” as each member can vote however they like – albeit with some big nudges from their leaders