Ed Miliband has chucked Labour in the deep end – it could very well drown

5:08 pm - July 10th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

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A lot of lefties are aghast at the plans Ed Miliband unveiled yesterday to change Labour’s link with the unions, while most on the Labour right are delighted. I think it should be the other way around; those on the Labour right should be worried about the impact if this gamble doesn’t pay off.

I say this because Miliband essentially admitted Labour can only survive as a mass-membership party if it appeals as a credible alternative to the Tories. People have to believe that being a member of Labour will give them a say in its direction, will involve them and engage with them regularly. Otherwise they have no reason to join.

All this is uncomfortable with the Labour right, who centralised decision-making, kept members out of active engagement and ignored grassroots mobilisation during the New Labour years. Labour party members were an unrepresentative embarrassment to them. Now they’ll have to make an active effort to engage them and encourage them, and offer a different vision of a Labour govt to trade unionists to persuade them to join.

Feeling sceptical this will happen? You’re not alone. But surely we on the left can agree that even an attempt to do is welcome?

What if Labour simply increases its reliance on corporate donors to make up the funding shortfall? This is likely, but carries huge risks. It would alienate unions even more and depress Labour membership. The long slide into a hollowed-out base would continue and the media would relentlessly ridicule Miliband’s pledge to turn Labour into a mass-membership party.

As Mark Ferguson said initially, union leaders would also face growing questions from members on affiliation if only a small percentage join Labour. Increased calls for dis-affiliation may also lead the unions to set up another party or support the Greens.

My point is simply this: it is unsustainable for Labour to make this monumental change and then rely more on donations from big business. It may have been possible in the past when union leaders had the appearance of clout but now even that is gone.

In other words Labour has to become a populist, mass-membership party or it will hasten its own demise. Ed Miliband’s move in effect threw the party into the deep end of the pool. Now it either learns to swim or it drowns. He has the change the party or he will drown with it.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. Forlornehope

Just remember that trade union membership is now dominated by the public sector and within that by management and professional grades. A Labour party in hoc to these individuals will be a special interest group for middle class state employees. Hardly the party of Kier Hardie!

Well the unions could always get on board with TUSC or Left Unity. Since, you know, they ain’t got owt else better going on for them.

The simple thing to do is for the next government to ban all donations to political parties other than those made by individuals who are members of that party. No corporate or union donations either in cash or kind. A £5000 donation limit per year per individual with jail for anyone breaking the rules. If the politicians, businesses and unions don’t like it, tough. Try living within their means the way ordinary people do and if a party can’t attract enough members let it die.

Ed Miliband has chucked Labour in the deep end – it could very well drown. Hopefully.

Maybe you’re right, but if this is his method of disarming the rump of New Labour he must be desperate.

Well something definitely needs to happen to Labour, since Hazel Blears has been impressing everyone with her thinking that unpaid workfare for the poor is fantastic, but unpaid internships for the middle class is not on!

7. Baton Rouge

The super-profits of imperialism are no more and the existence of the labour and trade union bureaucracy from its New Labour far right to its SWP/SP far left depended on those for its crumb cake. The old social formations are decadent and basically falling apart making way for the new revolutionary outfits and methods that will finally bury the capitalist vampire. The grave diggers, without this layer of opportunists between them and the corpse, can finally get to digging so that the next generation can get to planting.

8. Baton Rouge

By the way Sunny, there is no way New Labour will drown as a result of breaking the link with union funding. Milliband would not have made this move without securing in advance millions in pledges from private and City donors to help them through until perpahs tax-funded parties come in probably from those who are abandoning the discredited Lib Dems in the hope that New Labour will be the new Lib Dems. This will be in addition to the secret and shady alternative funding sources New Labour has always had from outside the labour movement and from forces hostile to it. No, New Labour won’t drown for financial reasons. The only way it will drown is if the left finally pluck up the courage to stick its metaphorical head in a metaphorical bucket of water and holds it there by offering a genuine, radical alternative.

9. gastro george

The managerialists in the Labour Party wouldn’t care a hoot. They would soon be leading whatever centre or centre-right party replaced Labour. In the same way that Clegg, Laws et al would be entirely comfortable in the Tory party.

10. douglas clark


You are in the wrong party. They do not believe what you do.

Being inside an enclave of people that only pay lip service to your own beliefs, when they talk the walk and then go off in a completely different direction?

Think about it.

You are going to have your work cut out turning Labour into anything that realisticaly endevours to make your words reality. There are too many people in your (?) party that are only in it for the trough.

I don’t know where that leaves you.

I really don’t.


I was having a chat with my younger son last night. He has just ‘discovered’ politics. He is shocked at the self serving bullshit that we are expected to put up with. From all of them, not just your new Labour clones. I agree with him, there is little or nothing to choose between the red Tories and the blue Tories.

I doubt you really think otherwise.

I think you are better than that.

For, a long, long time ago you had something unique and exciting to say.

Nowadays, excusing Labour?

Not so much.

You are a lot better than that, yet another apologist for the Labour Party. IMHO allying yourself with a particular political party has reduced your impact.

I preferred the universally critical Sunny Hundal.

Just saying.

Best wishes anyway.


11. douglas clark

Baton Rouge,

You said, amongst a lot of controversial stuff, this:

The old social formations are decadent and basically falling apart making way for the new revolutionary outfits and methods that will finally bury the capitalist vampire.

Could you expand on that?

It’s about time that LAbour moved on from the Union block vote. That said I was surprised how Ed Milliband seemed to be bounced into it by Cameron and how little thought that Ed had apparently given to it.

The loss of income is going to be a big problem, as other reader comments have highlighted.

Will watch with interest how this progresses.


‘The loss of income is going to be a big problem’

Not as big as the loss of votes.

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