September 20, 2011 7:29 pm

Miliband eyes party vote reform

Members of the public with Labour-leaning sympathies will be invited to take part in the party’s next leadership contest as Ed Miliband seeks to distance himself from the union allies who helped him to victory a year ago.

But the Labour leader has been forced to postpone until next year a plan to water down the unions’ 50 per cent vote over policy at conference after meeting resistance from the general secretaries.

Under the plans there will be a new “registered supporters group” whose members can vote in elections for the Labour leader and deputy.

Their vote would be cast within the “affiliate” block – currently dominated by unions – which holds one-third of the votes in any leadership race. MPs and MEPs have another third while grassroots members in constituencies hold the final portion.

Mr Miliband’s aides insisted that the plans were not an assault on the unions: “This is about making the party more outward-facing,” said one.

The idea could lead the party to hold open primaries for some parliamentary candidates, according to a Labour official.

In last year’s leadership race 247,339 union members cast a vote – suggesting that even if tens of thousands of members of the public registered their support, unions’ power would be dented at most.

“The idea that supporters will dilute the influence of unions is like saying pouring a cup of tea in the ocean will dilute the sea,” said Dan Hodges, commissioning editor of the Labour Uncut website.

The rules will also be changed to “one man, one vote”, ending the current system where individuals belonging to multiple affiliated organisations can vote several times.

The reforms are the result of a consultation process called “Refounding Labour”, led by Peter Hain, former work and pensions secretary. The changes will almost certainly be passed next week and are likely to be accompanied by the scrapping of shadow cabinet elections – prompting an imminent reshuffle – and the adoption of a vague new “clause one” insisting that Labour show greater involvement in local communities.

The FT revealed last week that union leaders were adamant they would not give way over their 50 per cent controlling vote at the Labour conference. That issue will again be consulted upon next spring.

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