Unions may have bigger role in electing next Labour leader

Harriet Harman says party can be rebuilt ‘to take the fight to this Tory government and to stand up for Britain’

Britain’s major trade unions have been given months to sign up their members to vote in September’s election for the Labour Party leadership to replace Ed Miliband, who quit following last week’s disastrous general election results.

Saying Labour needed "an open and honest debate on the right way forward", Labour's acting leader Harriet Harman insisted that the party could be rebuilt "in order to take the fight to this Tory government and to stand up for Britain".

Under changes brought in last year, the electoral college used for the 2010 contest that saw Mr Miliband elected – where members, unions and the parliamentary party each had a third of the vote – has been abolished.

Instead, each member of the party, no matter what their rank, will have one vote, while members of trade unions who sign themselves to be affiliate party members and thus make a direct contribution to union funds, will also have one.

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Depending on how many of the latter are signed up before voting closes on September 10th, the unions could play an even greater role in deciding upon Mr Miliband’s successor – which is worrying senior party figures. The decision on the schedule was made by Labour’s national executive committee yesterday afternoon.

Unions will have until mid-August to sign their members up as affiliated Labour members, although the unions and others had wanted the election delayed until Labour’s annual conference in Brighton in late September. Thirty thousand people have joined Labour since last week.

Yvette Cooper, whose husband Ed Balls lost his seat, is expected to declare her intention to run, possibly as early as today, following London MP Chuka Umunna's declaration on Tuesday. Andy Burnham threw his hat in the ring yesterday.

Meanwhile, a leading Labour MP, the Barnsley-based Michael Dugher, said Labour had been slow to recognise the threat posed by Ukip, adding that working-class people had not been the party's core vote "for a very long time".

Paying tribute to Mr Miliband’s intellectual skills, Mr Dugher said he had been “right to say ideas are the most important thing in politics”, but the Barnsley MP, an influential figure in the party, said he believed “politics is 90 per cent about emotion”.

Mr Miliband had “called time” on “those terrible old days back in 2010 – all the coups, the infighting, the factions, the sort of nastiness and, frankly, madness that was on display in our latter period in government”.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times