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by John Haylett
 

Many of us can sympathise with Ed Miliband’s plight because we’ve all said something stupid when we’re under a malign influence. For some it’s the demon drink. In Miliband’s case it’s his circle of advisers.

Having nailed our colours to the flimsiest of masts, we have a choice the next morning of putting our hands up, apologising and moving on or trying to brazen it out by insisting that the rickety mast is made of stoutest English oak.

Miliband has chosen the brass neck route, standing by his twin idiocies of refusing affiliation fees from trade unionists without individual commitment to the Labour Party and of asking police to investigate the parliamentary candidate section process in Falkirk.

He appears oblivious to the implications for relations henceforth with the trade union movement, leaving the field open to Tory mischief-making.

According to David Cameron, the unions dominate Labour’s annual conference, determine party policy and have the whip hand in electing a leader.

“That is the fact. They own you lock, stock and block vote,” the multimillionaire Prime Minister sneered.

None of the above is true, as any observer of a conference transformed into little more than leadership rally could testify.

If unions could actually determine party policy, Labour would not have commitments to the bankers’ austerity agenda, “modernisation” of the NHS and public services, PFI, privatisation and several Nato military interventions hanging round its neck like a flock of albatrosses.

Calling affiliated union members’ votes controversially “decisive” in a closely contested poll is a value judgement based on seeing involvement of individual members, MPs, MEPs etc as more valid than that of trade unionists paying their political levy and expressing their preference collectively through their union.

Such a view prizes individualism over joint enterprise, which explains its attraction to Tony Blair and the new Labour faction that still wields huge influence in the parliamentary party and Labour’s apparatus.

These are the Blairite “die-hards” who not only fought like hell to prevent Miliband from becoming leader but keep up constant pressure to bounce him into policy directions acceptable to their neoliberal orthodoxy.

In true new Labour style, no decision is ever to be taken on political principle or notions of social justice. Media perception and credibility are the deciding factors, together with fear of being outflanked by the Tories.

Shadow health minister Diane Abbott blamed media pressure earlier this week for Miliband having “to be seen to take the positions that he does” for fear of appearing a creature of the unions.

In reality, pressure is two-pronged, representing a symbiotic relationship between the media and new Labour voices, whether still in Parliament or, like Blair and Peter Mandelson, having moved on to more lucrative pursuits.

Why did Miliband take the absurd and provocative decision to ask the police to investigate Falkirk CLP, effectively smearing the Unite union as involved in electoral skulduggery?

Did he really believe that events justified a criminal investigation or was he convinced by those around him that Labour could not remain silent after Tory MP Henry Smith wrote an open letter to Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House demanding an inquiry?

The new Labour cabal’s hysterical overreaction arose from its fear that, for the first time since it captured the party, its nominee might lose a mid-term candidate selection procedure.

Unite has been open and honest, broadcasting its determination to recruit members to the Labour Party and to champion working-class people as prospective MPs.

The rule that a union can pay the first year dues of new members was brought in under Blair. There were no protests until Unite operated it successfully enough to pose possible detriment to the chosen elite.

And while the media spotlight has been directed fully on Unite and Len McCluskey, Blairite hopeful Gregor Poynton’s initiative in paying the fees of 11 recruits has been barely remarked upon.

If Miliband believed that his alarm call to the boys in blue and reference to the “death throes of the old politics” would ease pressure on him, he was wrong.

Both the Tories and their political allies in new Labour’s party within a party will stop at nothing to prevent the unions from assisting a fightback inside Labour to increase working-class influence.

Miliband’s crass behaviour has helped the factionalists to do their dirty work.

He has turned his back on honest money contributed through the trade unions by union members paid through deductions from their dues without any thought to how these millions of pounds can be replaced.

Forget any pursuit of multimillionaire donors. Miliband can’t offer them gongs like Blair did.

Forget state funding. Not only is it a political vote-loser but the Tories don’t need it so they would veto it.

And forget the idea of trade union members flocking into a party that still backs cuts in services, jobs, pay and pensions. It won’t happen.

In fact, unless Miliband realises the enormity of the damage done to Labour’s relations with the trade unions and wakes up to the need to do something about it, he can forget a lot more besides.

 John Haylett is political editor of the Morning Star
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