The unions and the Labour will just have to work harder to win the support of working people

According to a poll by Lord Ashcroft, a majority of Unite members don't feel they are well represented by Ed Miliband.

According to a poll out today by Lord Ashcroft, a majority of Unite members don’t feel they are well represented by Ed Miliband.

Almost half (47 per cent) of members said they felt Labour do a bad job of representing ordinary working people, while just 12 per cent of Unite members said they would join Labour once Ed Miliband’s party reforms are implemented.

49 per cent of Unite members said they would vote Labour if there was an election tomorrow, while 23 per cent said they would vote Tory, 12 per cent  said Ukip and 7 per cent said the Lib Dems.

The survey consisted of over 15,000 interviews which were conducted with just over 700 Unite members.

In some ways this supports something we pointed out when Ed Miliband announced the changes to the rules governing union member donations to Labour earlier this month – something seemingly missed by sections of the left: the reforms may mean that Labour has to do more, rather than less, for ordinary trade unionists.

In other words, Labour will no longer be able to automatically rely on money coming from the pockets of trade unionists whatever happens, but will have to attract union members with favourable policies.

However it also seems clear that, while Ed Miliband will have to work hard to win and retain the support of ordinary trade unionists, so will Len McCluskey.

Notwithstanding a recent blip, union membership in both the public and private sectors have been declining for much of the past 30 years. And according to Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll, 86 per cent of Unite members support the government’s benefit cap, while three quarters do not recognise who Len McCluskey is.

While there are several problems with taking a poll of Unite members and applying the results to the entire trade union movement, what this latest poll does appear to show is that both the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour party have work to do if they are to appear relevant to working people.

It isn’t enough (and hasn’t been since before the days of Thatcher) to simply assume that trade unionists will automatically vote Labour. They won’t, as this poll again demonstrates.

And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If Miliband’s reforms and polls like this lead to a greater level of introspection as to why so many trade unionists are no longer supporting Labour; and if the the trade unions take on board the fact that, if ordinary members don’t even know who the leaders is, then there is probably an engagement problem, the labour movement could emerge much stronger from all of this.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.