Miliband Moves to Distance Labour From Union Leaders

Ed Miliband tried to distance his opposition Labour Party from the bosses of the U.K. unions that founded it, as police investigated whether one of those unions tried to fix the selection of a candidate for Parliament.

Miliband asked police on July 5 to investigate the behavior of Unite, Britain’s largest labor union, over its actions in the selection of Labour’s candidate for the seat of Falkirk in Scotland. In a speech in London today, Miliband described what happened there, which Labour still hasn’t disclosed, as “a politics closed, a politics of the machine, a politics hated -- and rightly so.”

The Labour leader tried to use the crisis, which has caused the resignation of his campaigns chief, Tom Watson, to create a new relationship with unions. He proposed that, rather than every union member being automatically affiliated to Labour unless they opt out, they should have to opt in to supporting the party. That will give Labour the right to their contact details, information unions currently refuse to share.

“I do not want any individual to be paying money to the Labour Party in affiliation fees unless they have deliberately chosen to do so,” Miliband said. “I believe we need people to be able to make a more active, individual, choice on whether they affiliate to the Labour Party.”

Unite has donated 11.8 million pounds ($18 million) of the 60.2 million pounds Labour has received since the 2010 election. Miliband’s move could actually give union bosses more control over the money they give Labour, because levies from members who choose not to opt in will go straight into discretionary political funds.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said he welcomed Miliband’s proposals. “He seemed to be saying to me that he wanted to see tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of ordinary trade unionists actively playing an active role within the Labour Party,” he told the BBC. “Now, that’s something I very much welcome. So as far as Unite’s concerned, we’re more than happy to engage in the discussion with him.”

Miliband sought to return fire on the Conservatives, who have attacked him over Labour’s union links. He proposed that members of Parliament should be stopped from taking outside jobs. The Tories have been hit by a series of lobbying scandals in recent months.

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