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Delays hit Labour 'opt-in' plans

Reforms to the Labour Party's links to the trade unions could be delayed five years in what the Tories claimed was a "watering down" of the move under pressure from the party's biggest donors.

Ed Miliband's proposal to end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party in favour of an "opt-in" system has caused tensions with the movement and warnings of a damaging slump in funds.

The Guardian reported that the change could be restricted to new joiners or be put off until well after the 2015 general election in a bid to reassure union bosses and avoid a sudden drop in income.

It comes ahead of a meeting next week by the executive of the Unite union - the Opposition's biggest single donor - to decide its stance on the shake-up.

Mr Miliband announced his reform plans at the height of a bitter spat with Unite over allegations of ballot-rigging in favour of the union's preferred candidate to fight the Falkirk seat in 2015.

Unite's support is considered crucial at a special conference to approve the measures - being drawn up by former party general secretary Lord Collins - in the spring.

A Labour spokesman said: "The Collins review consultation is still ongoing. There will be a special conference in spring 2014 to decide on its conclusions."

But Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps seized on the report to renew accusations the Labour leader of being in hock to union leaders such as Unite's Len McCluskey.

Unions have warned that the reforms could cost Labour millions of pounds a year in affiliation fees, and the GMB has already announced it will cut its payments by around £1.1 million from January.

But Mr Miliband argues the changes could boost party membership from 200,000 to 500,000 or more and make Labour a true ''one nation party''.

The Guardian said figures within the party pointed to suggestions in previous reviews of party funding that changes to affiliation arrangements could take five years.

It said Lord Collins was looking at a system employed by the Unison union which sees new recruits able to choose between contributing to a Labour political fund or a general fund.

They are also made aware of the option to opt out altogether - and can at any point switch between funds, choose to be part of both or opt out.

Lord Collins believes the set-up would meet Mr Miliband's desire for a more transparent system, the Guardian said.

Mr Shapps said: "In the summer, Ed Miliband promised to take on Len McCluskey's Unite union by reforming the Labour Party's link with the unions," he said.

'But now we learn that Ed Miliband is buckling under pressure from his union paymasters and watering down his reform proposals.

'Once again Ed Miliband has shown he's too weak to stand up to the union barons fixing his own party's selections.

"And if he's too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey, (he's) too weak to stand up for hardworking people."

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