So, Falkirk didn’t happen! Surprise is not the word that comes to mind as it was easy to spot at the time that this was an attempt to create an artificial row so the Labour Party could somehow “renew” its relationship with the Unions. The danger in this tactic as I have warned before is that it looks like we are involved in an internal row and are divided. The idea that somehow Labour having an argument with the Unions is good electorally has been blown out of the water. The people who dream these things up are just that: dreamers. They have no sense of reality nor understand what ordinary people on the street are saying or thinking. These dreamers will lead the party to defeat. This wasn’t and isn’t a Clause 4 moment. It’s a clumsy moment and that’s being polite.
Instead of picking fights with our friends, we should be picking fights with our enemies. We should also be preparing for the next general election and giving people hope with a raft of radical policy ideas designed to stimulate both the economy and the electorate. Goodness knows the country needs it! Instead the news is full of nonsense that has no bearing on real people’s lives. And there lies the danger. We look out of touch and the Tories just rub it in as we are now on their territory because either by default or design we are denouncing the unions because the “link” is wrong and is holding us back.
What is holding us back is the ability of some top advisors in the party to understand ordinary working people. The idea of building a mass party full of inspired full members and affiliated members is to be commended. This idea though of asking union members to sign up individually will fail because it spectacularly misunderstands both unions and their members. Asking people to positively join or affiliate to the party when joining a union will not work. Ask anybody to opt in and they won’t. Ask them to opt out and they won’t be bothered. People join a union in the main to help protect them at work. Most people understand, even if they don’t vote Labour, that we will tend to look after those in society who need protection and generally most working people see those people being themselves. That doesn’t mean they will join, support or even vote Labour. That’s often the contradiction of the electorate. They may join a union because collectively they can see it will be an insurance policy in difficult times. Remember in the 1980s? Union members in their droves voting for Maggie. People vote because they ask the question: what’s in it for me?
And there is the huge danger and miscalculation. By doing this, you will break a link which gives Labour a relationship with people which isn’t just the union link that the Tories and media shout about but a fundamental partnership which brings people and the party closer. Not about money, or conferences or strikes but the work a day job about striving to improve people’s pay and conditions and thereby their lives. That’s what makes the difference for ordinary working men and women. And, though they won’t always say it or even necessarily fully recognise, it’s there and they know it. Labour is for them and supports them because that’s what their union does. Doesn’t always mean they will vote Labour though never mind join.