Can Miliband shift the debate from Unite the union to party funding reform?

Ed Miliband has tried to get on the front foot as Labour’s union problems rumble on into another week. After some initial hesitation over the Falkirk scandal, Miliband referred the case of Unite’s involvement in Labour candidate selection to the police, and election organiser Tom Watson resigned from his position as Deputy Chair of the Labour Party.

Miliband also yesterday outlined what he called ‘significant’ reforms to the party’s relationship with the unions, as part of his plan to fight back against allegations that he’s not in control of his own party. He also struck out at the Conservatives, who have revelled in the Labour leader’s discomfort, by proposing a £5,000 cap on party funding from individuals. Part of an effort to shift the debate away from Labour and the unions onto a wider debate about party funding, this measure would put pressure on the Tories as a significant part of their funding is based on large personal donations.

Miliband has framed the reforms as historic and significantly reformative for the party. However, they may not be as meaningful as they first appear. Labour still faces ambiguity over the proposal to introduce an opt-in system for Labour support from union members, replacing the current opt-out system.

It is unclear how this reform could work in practice, with questions over whether Miliband has the authority to interfere with current union procedures regarding their own political funds. There are also uncertainties over how the party could make up for a fall in funding, with the GMB union warning that such a move would significantly cut funds to Labour, which is already heavily in debt. Miliband also now faces further problems with candidate selection in other constituencies across the country, with reports that unions have been active in over 40 other constituencies so far.

Jake Rigg

Jake Rigg

Jake is the Managing Director at Keene Communications, specialising in government relations activities on financial services, tax and competition in the UK and the EU. He also specialises in planning and stakeholder engagement.

He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
Jake Rigg

About the Author

Jake is the Managing Director at Keene Communications, specialising in government relations activities on financial services, tax and competition in the UK and the EU. He also specialises in planning and stakeholder engagement. He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.