Not everyone on the left of the Labour Party is against the Collins Review. Its an issue causing a great deal of contention within Labour circles as seen yesterday at the Young Labour Conference in Bradford. After three votes on the motion on whether or not Young Labour will support the findings of the Collins Review, it was very closely voted against and delegates to the special conference will be mandated to vote against the Collins Review. There have been conflicting accounts of this debate. Many people have called it “inaccessible” because people were shouting out for a secret ballot, people were heckling during the debate and laughing delegates down. Conversely, many people have said that this was only because the Chair ignored point of order requests from the floor, saying “there is no such thing as a point of order”. Having only been to one national Young Labour conference before, the leadership, staff and chairing style didn’t exactly make me want to return anytime soon. In 2o12 people were repeatedly told to leave the platform if they dared say something that the exec don’t agree with so, conflicting reports of the atmosphere don’t surprise me. Nonetheless, Young Labour surprisingly voted against the reforms.
Third time lucky: Young Labour conference votes against the Collins Review. #YL14
— Siddo Dwyer (@Siddo_D) February 22, 2014
There has rarely been an issue within internal Labour Party politics I have found myself torn about as much as the Collins Review. When it comes to it, I am a staunch Labour Party democrat. I will always support improved democracy within the party and I am one of the biggest supporters of Labour Students One member one vote. So, how do I feel about the Collins Review? Slightly on the fence and slightly leaning towards for the reforms. I know that this will disappoint a few people I know, but hear me out.
These new trade union reforms are a complete knee jerk reaction to the situation that happened in Falkirk, where Unite, the biggest affiliate of the Labour Party and the biggest trade union in the country, were accused of fiddling the Falkirk selection. In a CLP that has been mired in controversy since Eric Joyce decided to punch a Tory in the commons bar, there was yet more controversy where Unite were accused of signing up 100 members to vote for their preferred candidate, Karrie Murphy, who is Tom Watson’s office manager. Watson is the MP for West Bromwich East, which to my knowledge is somewhere in the West Midlands. The two towns are 250 miles away from each other. However, it wasn’t just Unite that were up to something. Widely seen as the preferred candidate, Gregor Poynton-husband of Gemma Doyle MP for West Dunbartonshire was also accused of signing up members with a single cheque. So the need to react to this with new sweeping trade union reforms is interesting given that Unite were cleared and more than one candidate was up to something.
So began the Collins Review. Ed Miliband has used various soundbites to suggest he doesn’t want to end the trade union link, but mend it. How will this be done?
A more transparent link with the trade unions
Despite the fact that trade union money is the cleanest funding in politics, Labour feel the need to make the link between the party and the unions more transparent. I’m glad to be a member of a party where we are funded by trade unions and not big businesses in exchange for policies. However, I accept that not everyone who is a member of a trade union wants to fund the Labour Party. That’s why the Collins Review has called for ‘an active choice’ when it comes to paying political fund fees i.e funding the Labour Party. The major concern here is that it will be opt in rather than opt out, the way it currently is but there will be a five year transition period. It isn’t terribly concerning. Unison already operates such a system and has seen little difference in funds in the time it has been implemented. This leads to another recommendation to ensure there is a closer relationship to trade unionists who pay the levy. Collins recommends that trade union members can go further and sign up as affiliated party supporters where they would be able to vote in leader elections, receive party literature and attend CLP meetings.
One Member One Vote (OMOV) in Leadership Elections
This section of the Collins Review proposes that the current Electoral College system be abolished. Through this, people could have multiple votes in the leadership elections but the electoral system will give every person who is a member, affiliated supporter or a registered supporter an equal vote. As it stands, affiliated organisations have a bigger proportion of votes at 40% of the electoral college, the CLPs have 30% and the PLP has 30%. Abolishing the electoral college will have its benefits in that the leader will be democratically elected and every member, from CLP activist to shadow foreign secretary will have an equal say. However, duplicate voting isn’t as much of a problem as the Collins Review makes it out to be. In the 2010 leadership election, there were 2.7 million people who were eligible to vote in the election only 234,000 ballot papers were actually returned. It will be interesting to see if the reforms would increase turnout or not.
Fair and Transparent Selections
Again, a slightly knee jerk reaction because, in most CLPs, selection procedures are followed correctly. It just so happened that Falkirk would generate a lot of interest given that Eric Joyce was not popular and would be stepping down at the next election. Lord Collins has proposed a spending limit on parliamentary selections and a code of conduct. This code of conduct is despite claims in the Collins Review there were very little complaints in the recent round of parliamentary selections, except in Falkirk. However, campaign spending limits are welcome, especially when we as a movement are trying to get people from less privileged backgrounds into politics. Lastly, the Collins Review does not offer any information on signing members up on a single cheque, or signing members up without their knowledge.
Although these proposals are well intended, the Collins Review has attracted criticism across the party. Many people are concerned that there will be a severe lack of funding to the Labour Party. Labour is already in financially murky water. Trade union affiliates are only being given one right, that they already have and that is a vote in the leadership election. It will also lead to increase bureaucracy as there will be four different tiers for Labour Party membership.
I can’t help but notice though, many of these claims have rather simple solutions. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that there will be less funding, the people who pay the levy now, will probably still pay the levy. In addition, why don’t we increase the contribution elected representatives make to the party? There are lots of ways to increase funding for a political party.
All in all, I’m still torn about Collins. I’m a proud trade unionist and I have an active role within the trade union movement. I don’t want to see the link broken or ended, but I’ve heard so many conflicting sides in the debate. Having read the Collins Review, I’m not exactly enthralled about party reform. Its a knee-jerk reaction, there are no concrete ways of getting trade unionists involved in the party, there are no proposals on how to get people from a working class background involved in the party either. It makes assumptions about people at a time when they are disengaging with politics.
The Collins Review needs some work in order to actually mend the trade union link. But the thing is, it wasn’t broken in the first place.