Trade unions should trump Ed Miliband and let their members opt in to membership of any party

From the advanced briefing, it looks as if Ed Miliband’s speech today will offer up some fairly sensible suggestions for reform of Labour’s selection rules.

One is a big risk – but which although designed to curb trade union influence, could, in fact, open up the door to much greater trade union influence if senior trade unionists are willing to look beyond the narrow confines of Labour and think of all their members.

The reform in question is the idea that rather than trade unionists having to opt out of becoming members of the Labour Party, they should have to opt-in. The danger for Labour, and for trade unions, is that the change results in far fewer Labour members and much less money for the party.

However, an imaginative response by trade unionists to this would be to double the stakes for Labour.

Don’t just switch to people having to opt in; let trade union members choose which party they wish to opt to join.

Many would of course still pick Labour. But by no means all, especially given that the majority of members even in Unite are not Labour voters.

It would be a double win for the unions.

First, seeing an influx of trade union members to other parties would increase the influence of trade unionist viewpoints in those parties too.

Think, in the case of the Liberal Democrats for example, how much stronger the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists (ALDTU) would be after such an influx of members. They would be Liberal Democrat trade unionists, and so not an influx to be feared, but trade unionists nonetheless. That’s a win for real trade unionist influence.

Even better, from this perspective, the fear of an easy switch of trade union support away from Labour will put pressure on Labour to respect the views of trade unionists too.

It would be a double win for trade union influence.

The only losers? Trade union chiefs who ignore their many members who are not Labour voters, who think trade unionist influence is all about the Labour Party and who like being in charge of large political funds that they spend contrary to the political views of millions of their members. But even that loss for them would be a win for trade unionists at large.

Because trade union influence should be about what millions of trade unionists want – Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative, Green, nationalist and all – and not just what a small elite cadre of Labour and far-left trade union chiefs demand.

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