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“Clean but empty hands”

John Rentoul

smith 300x168 Clean but empty handsI praised Ed Miliband in The Independent on Sunday yesterday for finally doing what Neil Kinnock, John Smith (pictured), Tony Blair and Gordon Brown lacked the courage to do:

I mean breaking the link between the trade unions and the Labour Party. We Blairites are not calling it that, of course, because we are trying to be helpful.

But that is what it is. I do think that what Miliband has done is historic and important and hope that it will be followed through. It is too late to make much practical difference for the 2015 election (although it will help with perceptions of Ed Miliband’s leadership): most of the candidates have already been selected and I doubt if the reforms will come in in time to affect union funding for the 2015 campaign.

This is “all about winning in 2020″, as one gloomy shadow minister, who regards the 2015 election as a write-off, said to me.

Peter Clarke, the historian, had already written a similar article, but 10 times better, in the Financial Times on Saturday (subscription, first few articles free):

“Like Hobbes and fear, crisis and the Labour party have always been twins – Siamese twins.” These words were written more than half a century ago by Ralph Miliband, father of Ed, the current leader, who is no doubt familiar with the sentiment, less through filial piety than hands-on experience …

Mr Miliband is the victim of history rather than its beneficiary when it comes to party finance. The long saga – in which default contracting in was granted to the unions by a Liberal government, contracting out was imposed by a Conservative government and contracting in was reintroduced by a Labour government – is surely over.

Mr Miliband seems to have recognised this, under the pressure of a particular scandal, in affirming that his party needs willing recruits, not conscripts. And he will also then need some willing donors to fill the gap. This latest crisis may thus leave him with clean but empty hands.

The other article worth reading on this subject is Professor Tim Bale’s, in which he looks at the experience of the Attlee government’s change from opting in to opting out to estimate that 35 per cent of trade union members might choose to opt in to Labour affiliation.

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  • Pacificweather

    And the funds to fight the election are coming from where John? Bernie Ecclestone, oh no, he got his back, the Hinduja family perhaps? Arithmetic still your Achiles heel me thinks.


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