19 Sep 2013

Labour, trade union reform and Erich Honecker

Ed Miliband‘s point man on the trade union reforms, Lord (Ray) Collins, has published his “interim report.” It’s more a series of questions than a report.

The leadership hopes it is nebulous and open-minded enough to sideline the issue through this year’s conference, starting on Sunday, so that coverage focuses on measures to help people with the cost of living instead.

What the brief document does do is underline that though the number of union members affiliated to Labour might shrink by massive proportions, the intention is not to shrink the unions’ share of the conference vote (49 per cent) and the electoral college (33 per cent) in this phase of reform.


“We will need to consider what implications there are for the electoral college over time, as we move to a different system,” the report says.

The report repeatedly emphasises that “Ed,” as it refers throughout to the leader, wants a “collective voice” for trade unions in the Labour party – the critical buzz word “collective” is used six times.

“Ed does not want this individual relationship with trade union members to damage the collective relationship and the institutional links between the party and the union organisations.” writes Lord Collins.

Read more: Party funding wars and murky waters

The Blairites who cheered the original St Bride’s speech by Mr Miliband promising reform wanted an end to that collective role and still hope that Mr Miliband unwittingly or otherwise has opened the door to that.

Mr Miliband couldn’t have picked a better man than Lord Collins for this task.


Erich Honecker

One longstanding Labour MP who has known him for years describes Lord Collins as the ultimate Labour apparatchik.

As a teenager, Lord Collins tells friends, Erich Honecker (pictured) was his childhood hero.

Read more: Miliband: union reforms could boost Labour membership

With GDR efficiency, Lord Collins will always deliver exactly what his political master wants in the service of the cause.

Today, what Mr Miliband wanted was a document of careful vagueness that kept alive hope for those trade unionists who want to keep the unions’ “collective” role in the party without hacking off those Blairites who welcomed the original reform announcement as New Labour entering the Promised Land – Lord Collins delivered just that.

The actual detail will follow some time before the 1 March special conference.

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