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Union money is the cleanest in politics. Tony Blair’s is not. Let him keep it

Blair and bushThe New Statesman reveals today that Tony Blair, who again praised Miliband’s party reforms at the weekend, is considering making a “large donation” to Labour. How appropriate.

The party turns its back on trade union money which even those closest to Ed Miliband still admit is the “cleanest money in politics”, and turn instead to someone now reputedly worth £75m and about to make it onto the Sunday Times Rich List.

Whose client list includes the well-known democracies of Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Qatar.

For money that is very far from clean.

From a man who, we learn today, on the day the Millie Dowler story broke, sent a text to Rebecca Brooks saying:  “Let me know if there is anything I can help you with. Thinking of you“.

From a man who  advised Rebekah Brooks to launch a “Hutton-style” inquiry into phone hacking to protect her reputation and that of Rupert Murdoch on the day that the affair erupted into a criminal and political scandal.

From a man for whom the worst threat to his reputation is still to come from what Peter Mandelson calls the “very difficult minefield” of the Chilcot inquiry, which Blair has done his utmost to ensure does not have access to records of his private conversations with George W Bush.

How Labour accept large sums of money from this man as we await the condemnation of the Chilcot inquiry?

In comparison, I feel intensely relaxed about Labour accepting £7,500 from Lord David Owen who, in stark contrast, urged that “Chilcot and his colleagues should stand firm and not be bullied,” and argued that  normal conventions simply did not apply:

We went to war in 2003 and lost; our army suffered possibly its greatest ever humiliation in Basra.”

I certainly hold no brief for David Owen, but as I argued three years ago in response to speculation that he might rejoin Labour, “Labour is a social democratic party …. is it not the right place for social democrats to be?” Blair’s office at No 10 was stuffed with ex-SDP advisers – Andrew Adonis, Roger Liddle to name but two. If Labour is a broad church  – we should accept them as members provided that we are all prepared to work together, respect our differences and accept democratic decisions (though that wasn’t somthing Owen was prepared to do back in 1981).

I would not argue against accepting Owen back, and nor would I reject taking his money. But Blair is different.






  1. Norrette says:

    I disagree about Owen, Jon. Your other piece said – don’t offer him any inducements, or words to that effect. He seems to be recognising the Collins report as an inducement. I don’t have much knowledge about the gang of four and bear no ill-will, but I can see the message he’s sending today. And the pair of them are making it clear that they don’t want the unions in the party by their timing of these offers. A pox on both their houses.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I don’t hold any brief for Owen, but I’m not sure that’s right. He is quoted in the New Statesman as justifying his donation to Labour this weekend as follows:

      This is a brave and bold reform … and one I strenuously argued for as a Labour MP at the special conference on Saturday 25 January 1981. This very desirable change, nevertheless, threatens to weaken Labour’s financial support at a critical time, when I and many others are hoping to see the party produce a plan for government from May next year to rescue our NHS. Saving the NHS is my main political priority, and I suspect that of many others.

      To help Labour reverse the 2012 NHS legislation without yet another major reorganisation, I have made a declarable contribution of over £7,500 to Labour funds. Unless there is a change of government, the NHS in England will be completely destroyed by 2020.”

      The change he is supporting is primarily the replacing of an electoral college with OMOV – he announced his intention to split from the Labour party after having his OMOV proposal rejected in favour of an electoral college after all. At the time, the mainstream Labour Right’s concern had been to protect the exclusive role of MPs in choosing the leader, and then to maximise their role – they were no more enthusiastic about OMOV than the left. OMOV went entirely against the grain of collective representation which was not widely questioned. And a very considerable block of right-wing unions supported the traditional right. Owen’s proposal, with hindsight, was rather too radical. It entirely deprived MPs of their influence.

      Hostility to union influence was not generally part of the make up either of those who went to the SDP or the right-wingers who stayed. What they were really hostile to was the influence of activists, who they saw as unrepresentative of the good old “silent majority” of the membership. Hostility to trade unions themselves is something which I think has to be ascribed to the Blairites, who also seemed to trust those members who didn’t come to meetings much more than the activists. They still votes for CLGA candidates in OMOV elections, and the argument changed to them all being unrepresentative of Labour voters.

      Owen may be more hostile to trade unions than he was then but he doesn’t say so in his statement – instead he demonstrates an admirable commitment to the NHS. My conclusion – that Blair is much worse – I think stands up.

      1. Rod says:

        “he [Owen] demonstrates an admirable commitment to the NHS.”

        Surely this makes him far too left-wing for today’s Labour Party?

  2. James Martin says:

    Owen and Blair are essentially the same, with the only difference being timing. It is a mistake to think of either as social democrats, Owen like Blair wanted to stop the Labour Party being a workers party with links to socialism. However, for Owen the balance of forces, both in terms of working class activists and left ideological support meant that he had to try and split the Party externally to neuter it. When Blair came along on the back of huge political and industrial defeats (miners etc.) the balance of forces wee such that through enough lies he was able to wreck the Party and destroy internal democracy from within.

    And let’s be clear. There is a real material link between these two in terms of the secretive Atlanticist Nato backers they share. Yes, Blair had far better material rewards (for services rendered over Iraq), but Owen is hardly what you call skint and is one of many on the right of the Party who put support for US imperialism, NATO, militarism, nuclear weapons and anti-communism/socialism before anything else.

    So should we have the traitor back? Never, and anyone who thinks that we should is either too young to remember what deliberate damage he did to us, or have lost the plot.

  3. swatantra says:

    Owen and Blair, rather like Climate Change these days: you just can’t rely on them or predict what they will do. But I’m against major defectors from the Party being let back in; I was against Ken being let back in after stabbing poor Dobbo in the back; so Owen never, and send his £7500 back. With Tony its a bit more difficult; if Tony were to donate £10m then we should consider it. But not a penny less.

  4. Rod says:

    No doubt the Blairites and non-Blairites will now unite in favour of state funding.

    “Let’s take the big money out of politics.” they’ll say.

    Dumping the unions was one of Miliband’s cleverest moves. If Miliband wins in 2015 the Progress elite will be in clover.

  5. John Reid says:

    I never thought I’d say this Swantnra, and I agree that Livingstone being let back in sets a ground for Owens return, but he hardly stabbed poor adobo,in the back,
    The way that the party tried to use block votes to implement Dobson,rather than Livingstone was a mistake,and hypocritical,considering that block votes of union influence was what they’d been against all this time

    Regarding Blairs money I believe he loaned the party money in 2005 ,which he hasn’t got back ,yet,
    So it’ll be difficult to refuse,unless we pay him it back,and don’t take the money now ,Jon I can’t see your point about refusing the money as it’s not transparent why he’s doing this, I’d refuse the money,as it’s money from a discredited leader,

    But I accept the view on The Owen comparison, with Balir,I seems odd, Owen Joined Labour as he actually like the Labour party of Atllee and Gaistkell, the party swung to the left, and became un democratic, he left
    Balir on the other hand has never liked the Labpur party,wanted power and 32 years ago looked around as to what party it would be easier to climb, what party would be in power 15 years time, and used ways to get up the ranks,

    The only point I would disagree with is,that people can make individual donations to PCCs and that at local level, unions donating to one member is no different to if Blair gave money to Sedgefield or who ever stands in Blears old seat,

  6. Ric Euteneuer says:

    Ironic that John Reid complains that the 1950s – 60s Labour Party was ‘undemocratic’ (read ‘left wing’), and yet here we are in 2014 with probably the least democratic Labour Party we’ve ever had, with power firmly in the grip of an elite few who feel free to write neo-liberal policies and expect post-endorsement from the supine masses.

  7. John Reid says:

    When did I ever agree with 50’s 60s labour being undemocratic, other than pointing out that in those days only M.Ps voted fo reader, whe ade got rid Os shadow cabinet elections,2 years ago I was livid

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