Miliband unmoving as union funding clash nears

Ed Miliband will face down trade union bosses tomorrow in a speech set to be among the most challenging of his career, despite Unite being cleared of trying to fix the selection of Labour's next Falkirk MP.

The Labour leader is set to press on with his bold attempt at reforming the relationship between his party and the unions, despite intense opposition from those gathered at the TUC's annual conference in Bournemouth.

The clearing of Tom Watson's former office manager Karie Murphy, who has now been reinstated to the Labour party following the row over her candidacy in Falkirk, could have been used as an opportunity to scale back the confrontation over funding.

But Miliband will not step back from his commitment to shake up the relationship between Labour and the unions. A source close to the party leader, responding to a call from Watson for Labour to say sorry, stated "there is no prospect of an apology".

Instead Miliband will insist the switch to an opt-in system, in which trade union members actively choose to affiliate with Labour, is needed because it could restore Labour's status as a mass membership party of the people. 

"We need to build a party truly rooted in the lives of all the working people of Britain once more," he is expected to say in his speech tomorrow.

"It is the right thing to do. We have to change. And I am absolutely determined to make this change happen.

"It is the only way to build a truly 'one nation' party and 'one nation' country."

Miliband's decision to continue the standoff means he is imperilling the future funding base of Labour, however.

Last week GMB withdrew about £1 million of its funding from Labour. Now Unison has said the number of its affiliates will fall by 70,000, costing Labour a further £210,000.

Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis warned Labour in Britain could suffer the same fate as its namesake party in Australia, where former prime minister Kevin Rudd has been decisively defeated by Tony Abbott's Liberal-National coalition by taking 88 seats to Labor's 57.

Prentis suggested Labor's landslide defeat was the result of appearing "a disunited party", warning at a press conference in Bournemouth: "It will happen to the Labour party in this country if it does not get its act together."

Union leaders' hostility was undermined by a poll in the Independent newspaper showing support for the reforms, however.

The YouGov survey showed 60% of members of unions affiliated to Labour support the change, with 20% opposed and a further ten per cent calling for an end to the link altogether.

The research also found 16% of members of the general public saying the change made it more likely they would back Miliband at the 2015 general election, compared to just four per cent who said otherwise.

The TUC's new general secretary, Frances O'Grady, shied away from confrontation in her press conference yesterday.

"Most people are worried about big business and wealthy individuals having too much power in politics and influence over policy," she said.

"They want to see more nurses and car workers in Parliament, and Westminster to get to grips with living standards.

"My advice would be – shake hands and move on and start talking about the issues that people are worried about such as poverty pay, zero hours and jobs."

Miliband is expected to promise a Labour government would move to end zero-hour contracts altogether in his speech tomorrow.

"We need flexibility. But we must stop flexibility being used as the excuse for exploitation," he is expected to say.