Left Watch

« Miliband's defeat in the trade union battle threatens Labour's entire election strategy | Main | Vince Cable, the Psammead Business Secretary »

Ed Miliband fudges the union link, zero hours contracts and free schools

By Harry Phibbs
Follow Harry on Twitter

It is difficult to say how anyone could regard the Labour leader Ed Miliband's speech to the TUC this morning as a triumph. How wasn't cheered enough - the reception was lacklustre. So he could not claim to be inspiring and motivated his core supporter.

But now was he booed enough either. This wasn't a Kinnock moment - of the type when his predecessor confronted the Militant Tendency.

The only really rousing point came when a questioner said he was confusing.

I got under way with a reference to the Conservative Prime Minister Lord Derby legalising the trade unions. He was the 14th Earl of Derby said Mr Miliband pointedly. (When you think about the Labour leader is the 14th Mr Miliband.) But Lord Derby name was Edward. Would he be called "Red Ed" today for saying trade unions should be legal. Er, no.

Mr Miliband went on to say he was "proud of the link" with the trade unions but then said he wanted the Labour Party to have the "courage to change it":

A new relationship with individual trade union members.

Some people ask: what’s wrong with the current system?

Let me tell them: we have three million working men and women affiliated to our party.

But the vast majority play no role in our party.

They are affiliated in name only.

However he didn't set out any more details on the terms for "opting in" rather than "opting out" of the political levy. How would it work? 

As I understand the change proposed by Mr Miliband means that somebody who chose not to opt in would not be able to keep their £3 a year which was hitherto going to the Labour Party. The money would continue to go into the union's political fund. It could still end up funding particular Labour candidates or campaigns - but only those a union approved of. It is just that it wouldn't into general Party funds. That was Michael Gove's interpretation and is has not been seriously challenged.

Another subject of the speech was zero hours contracts. Mr Miliband said a Labour Government would restrict them. But he didn't say they would abolish them. Nor did he address he question of why wait for a Labour Government? Why don't Labour councils, such as his local council Doncaster, get on with it? After all they top the league for using these contracts - including in the ways that he apparently wishes to end.

During questions he was asked about free schools and said:

"Let's be clear we are not going to have new free schools under a Labour Government."

Is that clear? Not really. Unless the policy has changed since June it is to have more of them but that they should be called "parent-led academies."

That muddle from Mr Miliband is typical. The result is exasperating even for his own supporters.