Lord Ashcroft has published a poll of Unite members today, and certainly seems to have gone to great lengths to contact Unite members. Over 15,000 interviews were conducted online as a means of reaching just over 700 Unite members. Oddly, those interviewed were asked if they were union members, but only those who said they were members of Unite were interviewed. Why doesn’t Ashcroft have an interest in the views of Labour’s other affiliates? Is like likelihood of GMB, Unison or USDAW members joining the Labour Party not interesting or relevant?
Singling out Unite, when it would have been relatively simple to canvass the views of members of other affiliates, has a terrible whiff of political hit job about it. Especially when Unite are the current Tory attack line du jour. And I’m also not certain how Ashcroft managed to accurately weight the poll to accurately reflect Unite’s membership – or as Unite told the BBC, they have issues with “veracity of base” (if Lord Ashcroft wants to explain how he did this, we’d be interested to know).
That said, the results of the poll aren’t actually that bad for Ed Miliband. It shows that “only” 12% of Unite members would choose to affiliate to (and join) the Labour Party. But that would mean 170,000 members of Unite joining Labour (give or take, there will be Labour members – like me – who are both trade unionists and party members), which is vastly more than Unite’s internal figures, which suggested only 75,000 would join. And that’s before either the party – or Unite – have conducted any real membership drive for Labour under the new system (which, as we all know, hasn’t even been designed yet). 12% isn’t great but it’s not a bad base from which to begin.
And if 12% of members of all of the affiliated unions joined the party, that would boost party membership from just under 200,000 to well over 500,000. That’s not to be sniffed at.
The problem is that this is all hypothetical at this stage. Miliband is taking a giant leap into the unknown, and many both in the unions and the party believe that he can make this work financially and organisationally. That’s what Ray Collins needs to convince people with his review. The timetable is now set. Good luck to him…