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Reject the Collins Report!

14th February 2014

Reject the Collins Report!

Statement by the LRC EC

Ed Miliband wants the proposals of the Collins Report to be agreed at the recall Labour Party Conference on March 1st unchallenged. He claims that a vote in favour would be a big step forward for democracy within the Labour Party. He declares that the proposals, “are about opening up the Labour Party so that more people from every walk of life can have more say on the issues which matter to them most.”

He admits that, “these are the biggest changes in the way politics is done for generations.” So why are these proposals intended to be railroaded through in a Conference just two hours long? Why is there no possibility of moving amendments?  On March 1st there cannot be and there is not intended to be a serious debate.

Why have the Collins proposals been released less than four weeks before the Conference takes place? That gives very little time for a proper discussion in local parties and affiliated organisations. It gives little opportunity to mandate delegates on “the biggest changes in the way politics is done for generations.” 

We must certainly try with all our might to mandate our delegates in the time available. But the only conclusion we can draw is that Ed Miliband intends to come to a behind the scenes deal with the trade union leaders to present the Party membership with a fait accompli. Greater ‘democracy’ is to be imposed on the Labour Party by means of a squalid stitch up! 

Collective representation

Ed Miliband effectively wants to move towards OMOV (One Member One Vote). That involves breaking the link with the unions. The trade union movement actually founded the Labour Party. In 1899 the TUC passed a resolution for, “A better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons” to set up what became the Labour Party.

The unions took collective decisions as a body through democratic debate among their members to affiliate to the Labour Party. They also decide collectively at their conferences what policies to push the Labour Party to implement in their interests. It is a watchword of the labour movement that ‘unity is strength’.

This is the only way working class people have been able to gain representation in the political process. Now Ed Miliband wants to break that link with the unions. In doing so this would tend to change the Labour Party into something more like the US Democratic Party. It would be forced to look to business as a source of funds in the absence of trade union finance. If so, it could become a second party for the rich acting in the interest of millionaires. Would that be a gain for Britain? How democratic would that be?

Why did the NEC vote for Collins?

Some delegates to the Conference may feel bounced in to supporting the proposals because of the overwhelming vote in favour (28-2) on the National Executive Committee (NEC). In the first place the NEC was presented with the proposals at very short notice. There was no time to discuss and digest them properly among the delegations.

Secondly the NEC was in effect blackmailed by Ed Miliband to get him out of a pickle of his own making. Instead of taking on the Tories and LibDems, he emphasised the issue of Labour Party democracy, an issue considered unimportant by millions of voters desperately concerned about their declining living standards. Nobody on the NEC wanted to be accused of criticising Ed and causing Labour to lose the next general election.

The trade union leaders had previously made hostile noises about the proposals, but their delegates on the NEC (apart from Martin Mayer of Unite, who abstained) all voted in favour. The trade union leaders, with honourable exceptions, seem to have been involved with negotiations behind the backs of their members rather than defending the historic link that allows working class people political representation. They should not be allowed to decide alone. It is not too late for trade union activists to demand a say in how their union votes at the forthcoming Conference.

Leadership election

The leadership is currently elected by a vote in an electoral college where individual Party members have one third of the vote, one third by members of trade unions and other affiliated organisations, and a third by Labour MPs. (Before then the Parliamentary Labour Party alone elected the leader.)

The MPs’ vote is much more heavily weighted than that of members or trade unionists. In no other political party do the MPs have special privileges. The proposed elimination of the MPs’ vote is therefore welcome.

But the proposal insists instead on the nominations of 15% of MPs as a precondition for a candidate standing for leader. That is worse than the present situation, where 12.5% is the threshold. In the last leadership contest John McDonnell MP could not get enough nominations to stand and his point of view was not heard in the leadership election, even though thousands of trades unionists and Party members wanted to hear it. Why should MPs effectively decide who may and may not be allowed to stand as leader? That is halfway to actually deciding who the leader shall be.

All the talk about the advantages of OMOV is misplaced. Members of affiliated trade unions already vote individually by postal ballot in the leadership election. If Collins is passed, their influence in the process will decline dramatically.

Annual nominations for leader and deputy.

There should be an option for a leadership election to be held every year if desired. Even in the Tory Party, when Thatcher was completely off her rocker in the late 1980s, a ‘stalking horse’ was able to stand against her as a warning from the members.  Why should Labour be less democratic than the Conservatives?

Opting in

At present a union takes a collective decision as to whether to run a political fund and to allocate part of that fund to the Labour Party. Individual members may then opt out of the political levy. It is proposed now that trade union members should tick boxes to become ‘affiliated supporters’ of the Party. They can then vote as individuals.They can then vote as individuals. This breaches the whole principle of trade unionism, that we take majority decisions and everyone stands by them. That is our democracy.

Ed Miliband has become aware that the vast majority of trade union members will neglect to tick all the boxes (it’s quite complicated) and so trade union members affiliated to the Labour Party will decline drastically. The consensus is that only 5% or 10% of present trade union affiliated members will opt in. This will mean that possibly millions of trade unionists who pay something to support the Party and in turn feel connected to it by the option of voting on the leadership from time to time will now feel disenfranchised.

It will also cause a financial crisis for the Party. Some of the opponents of trade union involvement in the Labour Party welcome this.  Their secret agenda is that this will force Labour in office to propose state funding of political parties. This is massively unpopular with the electorate and would make Labour correspondingly unpopular.

For some reason Labour’s front bench has not attacked the sinister, secretive and squalid sources of Tory Party finances, such as hedge funds and finance capital. This money undoubtedly buys them power over government policy. In contrast members in affiliated trade unions take democratic decisions at their union conferences on what the policy of the union should be.

Labour’s leadership has come to understand that it is not possible to demand that affiliated organisations consisting of hundreds of thousands of members change their constitutions overnight. So the changes are to be phased in over five years. For the time being the voting pattern on the NEC and at Conference will be unchanged.

It is possible that this delay encouraged some on the NEC to vote reluctantly for the proposals and that they regarded it as some sort of victory. If so, their optimism is misconceived. The leadership has made it clear that the changes are irreversible. If this goes through the trade union’s influence over Labour’s policy will be drastically reduced in five years’ time.


For the time being the NEC will continue to have representation from affiliated trade unions as members. The Labour leadership has already been making noises that this will be reviewed at a later date.

Labour Party Conference

For now the unions and other affiliated organisations will continue to have 50% of the votes at Annual Conference. However, the specific weight of union influence will shrivel as the affiliated membership shrinks. The union vote will increasingly be seen as anomalous and will no doubt come under further attack later on.

The elimination of the union vote would no doubt be presented as a democratic reform. It is certainly true that in the past trade union leaders have wielded the block vote undemocratically. In fact the unions were usually seen as a bastion of the right wing at Conference for this reason. The solution to this is of course is for members of affiliated unions to work to democratise the union vote, and to democratise their unions in general.

More democratic?

A move to a form of OMOV will be no step forward at all while Conference decisions are completely ignored by Party leadership. At the 2013 Conference it was resolved to renationalise the railways, a policy that opinion polls indicate that two thirds of the population, including many Tories, support enthusiastically. The leadership issued a statement at once indicating that they had no intention of implementing this. Is this their commitment to democracy?  The real battle for democracy is to commit the Parliamentary leadership to carry out policies democratically agreed upon.


The commitment to a primary to select the candidate for London mayor is nothing whatsoever to do with the original terms of reference of the Collins Report. It has been crudely added on to the mess of policies we have been presented with. As Ann Black, who voted on the NEC for the proposals, recognises, “The report noted that a majority of responses were against the widespread use of primaries. This was an understatement: I only found a handful in support.”

At present the proposal is restricted to London, though it is a breach in the dyke that the leadership may want to follow up later on. Trade unionists from affiliated unions will be rendered without a vote for the Labour mayoral candidate by this manoeuvre.

A further indication of the carve-up that is the March 1st recall conference is that there will only be one vote on all the proposals – no chance to reject primaries separately.

‘Registered supporters’

This is a murky concept. The NEC proposals now accept that these people should be on the electoral register, which is that they should actually exist and not be electoral phantoms. All the same payment of £3 (nobody on the NEC knows whether that is proposed to be one-off or annual) in return for full participation in Labour Party decision-making is a formula for all kinds of chicanery and malpractice. The three categories of membership proposed also provide an administrative nightmare which is bound to produce errors.

Defend the Link: basic principles

The creation of the Labour Party opened up the possibility of political representation for working class people.
The relationship between the trade unions and the Party has been and remains central to the role of the Party in representing the interests of working people.

We therefore support:
- the collective affiliation of trade unions to the Party;
- collective decision making by trade unionists within the Party;
- representation for, and involvement of, trade unions at every level of the Party.

If you support these principles, vote NO to the Collins proposals on March 1st and make sure that your local Labour Party or affiliated trade union is also committed to vote NO.

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