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Union Link is the Cleanest Money in Politics

The Trade Union Liaision Organisation, the group of unions affiliated to the Labour Party, has sought confirmation from all leadership candidates that they will robustly defend the party’s links with the unions. A review of funding of political parties is a likely objective of the Con-Dems, as the Liberals are particularly keen on the idea of state funding though state funding for politicians might be a hard thing to sell  when financial austerity is leading to job losses in the real world.

Former Labour MP Martin Salter made a brilliant defence for trade union funding of Labour back in March.

[During the general election] a dossier was produced [by the Tories] highlighting the evil doings of Charlie Whelan and pointing to the level of contributions made by Unite to the Labour Party over recent years. None of this, of course, was news in any real sense of the word as Whelan’s exploits are even better documented than Coulson’s or Campbell’s and the financial contributions of all trade unions including Unite are publicly available in the Electoral Commission’s records. They are there for everyone to see, no obfuscation, no holding companies, no shadowy and strange organisations such as Bearwood Corporate Services or the Midlands Industrial Council. What’s more, trade union members even get to have a say over where there money is spent.

So is this the same Conservative Party that said in its evidence to the Neill Committee in 1998:

“The question of trade union funding of parties is not a matter of direct concern to the Conservative Party. We recognise the historic ties that bind the trade union movement with the Labour Party […] The Conservative Party does not believe that it is illegitimate for the trade union movement to provide support for political parties.”

Is this the same Conservative Party that brought in an entire legislative framework to ensure regular ballots of trade union members over the operation of their political funds and who passed the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 preventing the transfer of monies from union general funds into political funds?

In many ways those of us who strongly support the trade union links with Labour should thank the Tories for the tough legal framework that they introduced, for it has meant that the political activities of trade unions are more tightly regulated than any those of other organisation.

There is simply no comparison with the strict regime imposed on trade union political donations and the far more lax arrangements that are in place for the corporate donors and tax exiles who bankroll the Tory Party. For example:

  • To make political donations trade unions must first conduct a secret ballot of their members to secure consent for the adoption of political objects and to adopt political fund rules according to which a separate political fund would be created.
  • Trade unions must secure approval for these political objects in a secret ballot every 10 years.
  • The political fund rules must contain a right for members to contract out of paying into the political fund at any time.
  • Payment of the political levy may not be a condition of union membership, and no discrimination may take place as a result of non-payment.

To match up to controls on trade union political funding, these additional burdens on companies would have to include:-

  • the need to establish a separate political fund;
  • the need to adopt political fund rules;
  • the need to allow shareholders a right of exemption from contributing to political activity to which they object;
  • the protection of shareholders against discrimination on the ground of their exemption, and external supervision of the process by someone like the Registrar of Companies.

To put it simply, as a member of a trade union, in my case Unite, I know full well my rights and to which political causes a proportion of my subscriptions goes. As a customer of a business that has, through a variety of mechanisms, decided to fund the Tory Party it is a lot harder for me to find out precisely when, where, and how much of my hard earned cash finds itself into the coffers of my political enemies. You see, whether the Tories like it or not and whether anyone likes Charlie Whelan or not, trade union donations are the cleanest and most transparent money in British politics.

A lot cleaner than the foreign donations from dodgy Serbian arms dealers and other figures that helped bankroll the Tory Party prior to Labour’s law change in 2000. And a lot clearer than Lord Ashcroft’s relationship with the Inland Revenue. My Labour Party badge still displays the torch of the revolutionary, the pen of the intellectual, and the spade of the worker. Long may they remain.

2 Comments

  1. les says:

    Hilariious!

  2. Mellie says:

    To the previous commenter: What’s hilarious? Andy makes an excellent case.

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