The British Labour Party is holding a Special Conference to consider historic reform to the party’s structure.
In this speech, the party’s leader, Ed Miliband, argues the case for reform of British Labour’s links with the trade unions. The Special Conference is considering a plan to end the automatic affiliation of trade union members and the introduction of “one member, one vote” in leadership elections.
Miliband’s proposal would see an end to the 3-part electoral college system in which the votes of MPs, trade unions and rank-and-file members are weighted equally to elect the party leader. Union members would be able to opt-in to join the party.
The election method adopted by the Australian Labor Party in 2013 involved an electoral college in which MPs and party members had a 50-50 say. It is likely that there will be an attempt by unions to add a union component to this structure at the next National Conference.
The Miliband proposal is a bold attempt to broaden the base of the party with an influx of new members.
Some quotes from Miliband:
- How do we persuade the people who have left the stadium to think about coming back?
- How do we persuade other people that Labour Party members are normal?
- We’ll be voting for the biggest transfer of power in the history of our party to our members and supporters.
- The depth, the diversity, the reach of a movement is the true measure of its strength and its ability to make change.
Text of UK Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party’s Special Conference.
I want to thank all of you – local parties, trade unions, socialist societies – for being part of our discussions on party reform.
Some people worried this debate would simply cause deep division and discord. But we have shown our discipline.
And month by month we have grown more united, stronger, more ready to fight and win the general election.
Today I ask you to vote for the report of Ray Collins, overwhelmingly endorsed by Labour’s National Executive Committee.
Today I ask you to support the biggest changes to our party since 1918.
Today I ask you to seize the chance to change our party so that together we can change the country.
Friends, Britain needs us to do this. Because somebody has to mend our broken politics.
And this government isn’t going to do it. Just look at the Conservative Party.
Remember that picture from the House of Commons a few weeks ago of that front bench?
There were people who went to school at Eton, Westminster and Charterhouse.
But there wasn’t one woman to be seen.
That’s diversity for you in the modern Conservative party.
Their membership halved since David Cameron became leader.
A party unable to represent the great towns and cities of our country.
Just a party financed and propped up by the City of London.
No Tory councillors in Manchester. Not a single one.
What did they say after the recent by-election there?
They said: You wouldn’t expect us to do well here, because it has the largest council estate in Europe.
Doesn’t it say it all? A Tory Party narrowing, shrinking, shrivelling.
And in 14 months let’s send them where they belong: Out of power.
And, friends, do I need even to talk about the Liberal Democrats?
We’re meeting here in the Excel Centre.
Things are so bad I gather they’re thinking of having their spring conference in Nick Clegg’s local Garden Centre.
Or in any telephone box that will have them.
And let’s be honest, that’s what’s happening to the Liberal Democrats.
They are just going the way of the telephone box.
Come to think of it, they used to have a working Cable.
But even he’s been cut off. So it is our responsibility.
Only Labour can be the party that fights for every person, from every walk of life, from every part of the United Kingdom.
North and South, young and old, women and men. Only Labour can be a truly One Nation party.
But becoming that party means seeing ourselves as the public see us.
All of us came into the Labour Party because we passionately believe in changing our country.
We believe in high ideals. And noble purposes.
But that’s not what most people think. And I don’t really need to tell you that.
How many times have you heard it on the doorstep? “You’re all the same.” “Just men in suits.”
“Don’t understand my life.” “You’re in it for yourself.”
“I’m just not interested.” “Politics is out of date.”
So more and more people are turned off.
We’re here on a Saturday. But politics is like a match being played while the stands are emptying.
Fewer people are watching. We won’t turn that round by saying we’re right and they’re wrong.
We won’t do it by singing the old songs even louder.
If we do we’ll find ourselves shouting in an empty stadium.
That’s why today we are debating much more than our internal party structures.
We’re debating something far bigger. How do we get people back into our politics?
How do we persuade the people who have left the stadium to think about coming back?
To do that we have to have the courage to change.
Think about the people you meet in your daily lives.
Let’s not fall for the myth that they don’t care.
They do. They are just turned off political parties.
People do care deeply about what’s happening in their lives, the world around them.
People like Tracey who I spoke to the other day.
She’s a mum of 3. A supermarket worker. A member of USDAW.
But she’s not voted in 20 years.
Tracey cares deeply about her community, her workplace, her family.
But she doesn’t think politics speaks to her.
We’ve got to change that.
So we can hear Tracey’s voice in our party.
So how do we get people like that back in?
It starts with our local parties.
Think of the great work your local party does.
But how many times have you looked around at each other and said: “Why is it so hard to get more people involved?”
Or to it more bluntly, as a lady said to me in Leeds last Friday, “how do we persuade other people that Labour Party members are normal?”
As I am sure some of you would agree, it is a fair question.
But here’s the thing.
There are thousands of normal working people, affiliated to our party, in your constituency.
But at the moment you have no way of reaching them.
We have to change that.
And who are they?
Home helps who look after the elderly, and worry about their own mums and dads.
Classroom assistants who teach our sons and daughters, and have high hopes for their own kids.
Construction workers who build the homes we live in, but worry about whether they can afford a home of their own.
People who keep our shops open morning, noon and night, but are at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis.
And the porters, nurses and all the health service workers who support the pride of Britain:
Our National Health Service.
These are the working people affiliated to our party.
But too often affiliated in name only.
And think of all the other people, not in trade unions, whose voices we also need to hear.
Low paid workers whose boss won’t recognise a union.
Small business owners struggling to get a loan from the bank.
Stay-at-home mums who ask whether anyone is going to speak up for them.
They all need to be part of our party.
But you’ve probably heard it said at times in your local party: “I am sorry we’re full up.”
And it is not just in your party.
I was talking with somebody in Westminster in July, just after I announced these reforms, and they said to me in a classic Labour Party way:
“What if all these new people did come into the party, where would we be then?”
I’ll tell you where we would be:
We would be a much better party for it.
You see, I don’t want to break the link with working people.
I am proud of our link with working people and with trade unions.
I want to hear the voices of working people louder than ever before.
But in the 21st century, not everyone wants to be a member of a political party.
And you shouldn’t have to pay £45 to have a voice in the Labour Party.
That’s why I want to bring in the 100,000s of people who are supporters of our party.
Directly linked as individuals to the Labour Party.
And make them part of what we do.
That’s what these reforms can achieve.
And today, we won’t just be voting to open our doors.
We’ll be voting for the biggest transfer of power in the history of our party to our members and supporters.
Until 1981, only MPs got to select our leader and deputy leader.
Twenty one years ago John Smith set out on the journey of One Member, One Vote.
Today we can complete that journey.
Because even today, after all the reforms that have happened, in leadership elections an MP’s vote is worth 1,000 times more than each party member’s.
Let’s make ourselves the party of equality.
Not just in the policies we propose.
But in the politics we practice.
And we can bring people in if we make them part of campaigns that change their communities.
Keir Hardie used to call our party a movement.
Think about that word.
It’s movements that change things.
Let’s invite people in and show what we can do together.
Campaigning to stop the payday lenders ruining people’s lives.
Campaigning for and winning a living wage across our country.
Campaigning to freeze that bill.
And in the next 200 days, campaigning and winning the fight to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.
It has always been movements and people that change countries and change our world.
As Prime Minister I want to change this country, but I can only do it with a movement behind me.
It has always been this way.
Workers’ rights at the beginning of the 20th century.
The National Health Service after 1945.
The principle of equal pay for women in the 1970s.
The minimum wage in the 1990s.
Gay rights at the 20th century’s end.
All of these things happened, not because leaders made them happen, but because people and movements made them happen.
Today if you vote for these reforms you will be voting for Labour to be a movement again.
Arguing our case house by house, village by village, town by town.
But movements are only as strong as the people within them.
The depth, the diversity, the reach of a movement is the true measure of its strength and its ability to make change.
That’s why we have to change.
That’s why we have to bring people in. And that’s what we can vote to do today.
My Dad only spoke once at a Labour Party conference.
Sixty years ago next year.
He said in that speech that being part of this party was being “part of a great adventure.”
I won’t quote you the rest of the speech.
It was something about nationalising the commanding heights.
And I am worried one or two of you might agree with it.
But he was right about the great adventure.
A quest. Not for ourselves.
But for the people of this country.
To build a party and a movement that can:
Challenge injustice whenever we see it.
Reject division wherever we find it.
Tackle inequality wherever it may be.
Today, let’s vote to change our party.
Let’s build a movement. So that tomorrow, we can change our country.