Paul Kenny says we’d be “lucky” to get 10% of GMB members opting-in to the party – might such low take-up end the union link by default?

10th July, 2013 10:19 am

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny told the Today Programme this morning that:

“I think, anticipating, that we will now have to ballot our members, so we can comply with what Ed wants, I think we’d be lucky if 10% of our current affiliation levels say yes, they want to be members of the Labour party. Campaigning for the Labour party and being members of the Labour party are two entirely different things.”

That backs up what I suggested on Monday evening, when I wrote:

It’s unclear whether or not the party – or the unions for that matter – are set up politically, organisationally or culturally to conduct what will effectively be a mass membership drive for the party within the Trade Unions. To succeed , it will also need the tacit support of the trade unions themselves in encouraging their members to affiliate to the party. There is no small amount of pessimism amongst many in the unions that this will work. One trade union official last night told me they feared this would be looked back on as the moment where the party ran out of money…

Worse – if only hundreds of thousands (or tens of thousands) of affiliated trade unionists opt-in to being individual party affiliates, it would not only hit the party coffers (and the party’s already constrained ability to run a general election campaign), but could also risk the ending of the union link by default. It would be very hard for any union to justify continued party affiliation if only a small fraction of their membership choose to affiliate. If the party is no longer affiliated to millions of ordinary working people, it could be the end of the party not just in financial terms but also as a party of Labour too.

Is Ed Miliband happy to have only tens of thousands of trade unionists affiliated to the party? And if so, is this really mending the union link? Or might it be ending it by default?

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  • rekrab

    What a mess, an absolute spectacular O.G from Ed.

  • John Ruddy

    I think it says more about the GMB if they could only get 10% of their levy-paying members to contribute to the Labour party – ie current union policy.
    Len McClusky at UNITE seems to think he will get most of his levy-payers to do so.
    I suspect the answer will be somewhere in between.

    • “says more about the GMB”

      No, it says most about the Labour Party and its disconnection from the priorities and experiences of ordinary people.

    • Redshift1

      This really depends on the detail of these proposals. If we assume Ed’s position is as straightforward as it looks and it all gets rammed through without any negotiation then Paul Kenny is probably right. If a more sensible and workable method is negotiated then Len McCluskey is probably right.

      I think all it says is that Len thinks of this as a proposal that’s up for negotiation, whilst Kenny is commenting on the proposal as it stands.

  • XerxesVargas

    Why has Ed painted himself into this corner? Falkirk is no reason to challenge the link with the unions. It may be an argument to look at selection procedures. But again that is not an issue just for Labour.

    In two major ways the Labour party has folded in front of the Tories and it’s press – in not vigorously challenging the idea that Labour’s profligate spending got us into the financial mess and now with this issue on party funding. They should meet this head on, its not like the Tories are on a firm footing with their opaque city funding. Instead he rushes into a decision which could see the party weakened, possibly fatally.

  • Mike Homfray

    I really don’t think we can defend a strong union link if so few are unwilling to positively agree to a measly 3 quid a year. I’d suggest the GMB get working on explaining to people why its a good idea. Far more than 10% of their membership vote Labour.

    • rekrab

      Well, Well, that’s a shift from left to right Mike? are you sure Ed is defending the link?

      • Mike Homfray

        Absolutely sure – and I’ve always been consistent. I’m on the left of the party, but I broadly support Ed. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything, and I was concerned by the tone of the initial speech which was, however, badly misreported in the press.
        But the proposals make sense to me. I would like to downsize political spending and that does mean an opt-in. However, unless the Tories are willing to do without their big-money backers, there is nothing in these proposals to prevent money being given to Labour.
        The Unison model works well.

  • Redshift1

    There clearly needs to be a bit of negotiation here. Ed stated what he wants. Len’s more than happy with a review but stated he doesn’t want an end to the opt-out. Paul Kenny is making grave warnings about Ed’s proposals. David Prentice is kind of show-casing the Unison model. We have one former GS saying this hasn’t been thought through. Another one saying he’ll help try and implement Ed’s ideas.

    I think most party activists want to retain the union link, maintain union influence on the party rather than decrease it, and yet find easier and more direct ways of communicating and getting all the trade union levy-payers involved in the party. Ed’s clearly going too far in his initial proposals if you take that view but the idea that we change the system is one that I think members are at least open to persuasion on if it is done properly. Isn’t the solution for say, Iain McNicol to chair a meeting with Ed’s team and all the affiliated union General Secretaries and hammer out something that is workable and has clear detail on how it would change each union’s relationship with the party?

  • Alex Otley

    Miliband was so wrong to make the ‘opt-in’ a line in the sand. He’s basically accepted the right wing narrative that the collective nature of trade unions is wrong. Can only hope that the unions are able to negotiate something with him.

    • reformist lickspittle

      He hasn’t done any such thing, of course.

      Am getting a bit tired of the relentless, nihilistic negativity on here tbh.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    The reason you’d have trouble getting 10% support is that the Labour Party no longer represent us.

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