The Labour party’s National Executive Committee has backed Ed Miliband’s plans to change the party’s trade union links by 28 votes to two, which marks a resounding victory for the Labour leader. There was little doubt that the NEC would endorse the reforms, which will still take five years to be implemented, and in the end the two members who opposed the proposals (another member abstained) were vocal leftwing backbencher Dennis Skinner and Christine Shawcroft.
The next step is for the party to vote on the reforms at a special conference on 1 March. Miliband said this afternoon:
‘Some people will find change difficult to accept. Others are worried about the consequences. But at the PLP last night, the Shadow Cabinet this morning, and the NEC this afternoon, there was a strong consensus that change must come. Because we must have the courage to change our party and change our politics if we are to change our country once again.’
Labour figures want to make this another example of Miliband’s ability to win in a David-and-Goliath-style contest. But there is also an effort to emphasise Miliband’s ability to take his party with him on these matters, in contrast to David Cameron’s inability to take his party with him on the bigger matter of government policy. Miliband invests deeply in his MPs, and to a certain extent the support he has enjoyed is a reward for that as his backbenches feel they have good reason for backing him. These union reforms are hardly going to electrify the public, but Miliband and his team know that they need to sell them as big and historic, partly because they’ve convened a special conference to vote on them.
Aside from the vote at special conference, though, there is the pressure from the union leaders to make Labour an ‘attractive’ party to trade unionists. Len McCluskey, who has been reasonably polite about these changes and about his union’s willingness to implement them, is still saying that Miliband will need to work harder to coax trade unionists into joining the party. What that means in terms of policy, though, depends on whether Miliband decides to listen to Len McCluskey’s version of what trade unionists want, or read the polling, which offers quite a different conclusion.