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Britain's Labour leader further reduces union ties

  • Britain's leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband speaks to the Labour Party National Women's Conference ahead of the party's annual conference in Brighton, southern England September 21, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

LONDON: The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, Ed Miliband, revealed plans on Saturday to further reduce the influence of trade unions on the party.

He wants to change the way Labour leaders are elected by ending block voting by the unions -- a system that secured his own narrow victory over his brother in 2010.

The current electoral college system gives a third of the votes each to the unions, party members, and elected members of the British and European parliaments.

Miliband proposes to scrap this and give every member of the centre-left party a direct vote for a new leader.

The reforms build on his plans announced last year to change the party's financial ties with the trade unions, which helped found Labour in 1900.

Miliband wants to end the process by which union members are automatically affiliated to Labour unless they opt out, saying it makes no sense in the 21st century.

However, it risks having a major impact on the finances of the party, which depends on union donations.

When the move was announced last July, media reports suggested Labour nets £8 million (nine million euros, $12 million) a year from almost three million union workers -- the majority of the party's funds.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper on Saturday, Miliband said the changes were aimed at "letting people back into our politics, and getting them back into politics".

"These are the biggest changes to who can become involved in the Labour party since probably its formation," he said.

The changes are being sent to members of the party's ruling national executive -- of which about a third represent unions -- before a decision is taken at a special meeting in London on March 1.

The reforms were sparked by a row last year over efforts by Britain's biggest union, United, to get its favoured candidate chosen to contest a parliamentary by-election in Falkirk, in Scotland.

Miliband is particularly sensitive to criticism about union influence after their support helped him beat his older brother, ex-foreign minister David Miliband, to the Labour leadership in 2010.

Under the reforms, the unions would retain their collective voice on policies decided at Labour's annual conference, where they have 50 percent of the vote, although Miliband said this may also be reviewed.

 
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Summary

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, Ed Miliband, revealed plans on Saturday to further reduce the influence of trade unions on the party.

Miliband proposes to scrap this and give every member of the centre-left party a direct vote for a new leader.

The reforms build on his plans announced last year to change the party's financial ties with the trade unions, which helped found Labour in 1900 .

When the move was announced last July, media reports suggested Labour nets £8 million (nine million euros, $12 million) a year from almost three million union workers -- the majority of the party's funds.


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