When Labour’s national executive committee today rubber-stamps plans to “reform” the party’s historic relations with the trade unions, it will put the finishing touches to a long-term project to bring the party’s organisation into line with what it actually stands for.
Many sins have been committed in the name of “modernisation”, not least the creation of New Labour as a party wholeheartedly committed to corporate globalisation and an economy pretty much dominated by market forces. Add a little “light-touch” regulation and you could be looking at any of the mainstream political parties.
For New Labour – now rebranded as One Nation Labour – this has been a project that began with Neil Kinnock in the late 1980s and was carried on by his successor, John Smith. Ed Miliband, the current leader, is proud to march in their footsteps. He said last week:
"The first time I met Tony Blair was in 1993 and at the time he was on a group helping John Smith bring in one member, one vote for the selection of parliamentary candidates. I remember him looking at me and saying how difficult change was proving to be. At the very first party conference I attended, Smith – with the help of a speech by John Prescott – got those reforms through.
"Smith, Blair and Neil Kinnock have all embarked on these kinds of reforms over the past 30 years and I see this as completing that work. They are significantly bigger than anyone expected we would be proposing, and some are the biggest to the party since its formation."
Of course, Blair and Gordon Brown famously persuaded the trade unions to vote in 1995 for the abolition of Clause 4 of the party’s constitution that set out common ownership of the means of production as an aim. Union leaders did so in the hope that an incoming New Labour government would deliver policies to benefit their members. How wrong they were!
Today’s generation of union leaders are just as pathetic. With a few moans and groans here and there, the big three – Unite, Unison and the GMB – will back Miliband’s plans. They will be told, as they were in 1995, that the election of Labour in next year’s general election depends on it.
Miliband has to persuade the middle-class that One Nation Labour has broken free from union influence. So the way the party leader is elected will change to one member, one vote. At union level, individual members of affiliated unions will in future have to “opt in” to become associate members of the Labour Party. The last time that happened was in 1927, when in the wake of the General Strike, the Tories passed opt-in legislation (which Labour repealed after 1945).
The aim then was to weaken the collective in favour of the individual. And so it is with Miliband, whatever he says about “letting people back into our politics”. Miliband used the Falkirk selection farrago – which is par for the course in Labour constituencies – as the pretext for the changes.
In a wider context, Labour is part of the process of the end of the old politics and these changes won’t alter that fact. The mainstream parties are no more than state managers rather than independent actors, there to facilitate for powerful forces rather than respond to electors. This corporatocracy is so unattractive that millions have switched off party politics and the electoral fraud that goes under the name of a general election.
One Nation Labour is for continuing ConDem austerity and giving tax subsidies to companies to pay better wages. Miliband wants to “improve” the way markets work (as if he could!) and show that his party is for nothing less than “responsible capitalism”. I’d have to be dragged to a polling station to vote for that. And if I’d got that far, I’d spoil my ballot.