Miliband throws down a challenge to Cameron on second jobs and party funding

The Labour leader shifts the focus from the unions by calling for new limits on MPs' outside earnings and a cap on party donations.

Delivering his much-hyped speech, Ed Miliband masterfully shifted the focus from Labour and the unions to party funding and outside interests. He called for "new limits" on MPs' earnings from second jobs and "new rules" on conflicts of interests, declaring that "the British people must be reassured that their MPs are working for them". In a clear challenge to David Cameron (whose MPs would suffer most from this reform), he added: "I urge other party leaders to respond to this call for changing the system."

After pledging to introduce a new opt-in system for donations from trade union members, he used this dramatic concession, which Labour sources told me could cost the party as much as £5m, to call for the reopening of the stalled talks on party funding reform. He repeated his call for a cap "on donations from individuals, businesses and Trade Unions", which would likely be set at a level (Miliband previously recommended a limit of £5,000) that would significantly hit Tory coffers. 

The political calculation behind Miliband's move was that it would allow him to frame the Conservatives as the party of big money and Labour as the party of hundreds of thousands of working people. CCHQ has responded by questioning how he will introduce the opt-in system without a change in the law (should the unions refuse to play ball) and by challenging him to publish the Falkirk report. But Milband's smart pivot on second jobs and party funding means that they will immediately be challenged to say whether they will accept his proposals. For the first time since the Unite scandal broke, Miliband has done what he needed to and set the terms of the debate. 

David Cameron and Ed Miliband stand in Westminster Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.