A misguided decision by the GMB
With all respect to my friend Iain McNichol who is their National Political Officer, I thought the GMB's decision today to withdraw funding from, as they seem to have put it, six Labour MPs, was churlish and misguided.
The six MPs are Meg Munn, junior minister at the Foreign Office and MP for Sheffield Heeley, Stephen Ladywood, MP for Thanet South and vice-chairman of the Labour party, and four parliamentary private secretaries to government ministers: Christine Russell, MP for Chester, Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham), Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead East), and Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West).
They are all Ministers and PPSs so they all have the same reason why they are "not doing enough to support its preferred policies" - they are part of the Government, not backbenchers, so cannot pursue issues in the way that backbenchers can and would have to resign their positions if they want to break the whip to support a GMB position.
The more pertinent point is that there has been no such thing as the GMB sponsoring an MP for at least a decade, since that system was abolished and replaced by one less open to accusations of outside interests controlling MPs. What the GMB actually has is a series of "Constituency Plan Agreements" with Constituency Labour Parties. The deal here is that they and other unions give some cash (often not a lot) in return for the CLP encouraging GMB branches and members to get active in the party, recruiting GMB members to party membership, working on joint campaigns on the issues GMB cares about etc. It would actually be of questionable legality and a breach of parliamentary privilege for this to be presented as a deal that somehow mandated the MP to push particular policies. Having a Constituency Plan Agreement is not necessarily a precondition of an MP being a member of a union's parliamentary group. In fact an MP could be a member of a union, and of its parliamentary group, and vigorously campaign for its policy priorities without having any funding for their CLP through a Constituency Plan Agreement. The media and public might rightly suspect the buying of votes with donations if there was an explicit linkage.
So the victims of today's decisions are not the six MPs who had little choice any way about which way they vote given the offices they hold, but the members and activists of six probably blameless CLPs. A couple of them are in areas where the historic links between the GMB and Labour go back nearly a century. Three of the six are knife-edge marginals where the withdrawal of funding can only hurt Labour's chances of holding the seats, and risk local GMB members ending up with Tory or Lib Dem MPs hostile to trade unions.
The GMB would do better to make sure every one of its Constituency Plan Agreements is implemented, not scrap some of them.
It ought to be working to strengthen the Labour/union link at the grassroots by sending more delegates to CLP GCs and increasing joint campaigning, not issuing threats that the people on the receiving end have no power to respond to.
I write this in some sorrow as someone whose great-grandfather helped set up both his Boilermakers' Union and Labour Party branches in the '20s, at a time when the idea of a union voluntarily distancing itself from local Labour Parties would have been unthinkable.