Shock, horror! Labour linked to unions!
As red scares go, the new Tory publication claimed Unite is Labour's "new militant tendency" doesn't quite rank with the Zinoviev Letter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinoviev_letter).
You can read the Tory dossier here: http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/03/~/media/Files/Downloadable%20Files/newmilitanttendency.ashx
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Labour and trade union politics is likely to find it laughable.
The revelation that the country's largest trade union has quite a bit of political influence inside the Labour Party is hardly shocking. Perhaps the biggest clue is in the name of the party: "Labour". Kind of suggests a party aimed at representing working people rather than plutocrats, doesn't it? And what are the other organisations that represent working people industrially and politically - that would be the trade unions. They set up the Labour Party (as the Labour Representation Committee) in 1900 when it became clear the Liberals were not interested in advancing the interests of ordinary working people.
It's also hardly a secret relationship. Unite's share of the vote in electing Labour's leader is a matter of public fact. So are its donations. So are the NEC members, MPs and PPCs who are members of it. Most of them proudly state their membership on their election addresses. Unite's policy submissions to Labour's manifesto are made transparently all in their own name, and argued for publicly. It's hardly comparable to the complex network of front companies like Bearwood Corporate Services and the Midlands Industrial Council which channel big corporate money to the Tory Party in return for who knows what.
Labour should be very proud that democratic organisations consisting of millions of ordinary citizens repeatedly decide to formally affiliate to it, fund it and campaign for it. Where and who are the equivalent mass-membership NGOs and civic society organisations that transparently affiliate to and fund the Tories? Their funding comes from the few, not the many.
A few specific points about the Tory dossier:
- Casual use of the phrase "militant tendency" is a smear. Militant Tendency was a Trotskyist revolutionary group. Unite may be marginally to the left of the Labour leadership, but it is led by democratic socialists.
- Unite itself doesn't seem to share the view that it has a massive influence over government policy. If it did, how is Brown and Adonis' intervention in the BA dispute explained?
- The number of CLPs supported by Unite financially merely reflects its relative size as a product of a series of mergers. It's the biggest union so of course it has the most CLP constituency plan agreements and the most MPs and PPCs who are members. All Labour PPCs are supposed to be members of a trade union and Unite is now the union almost everyone in the private sector is eligible to join. It's hardly sinister. What would be sinister would be if a tiny organisation, with a handful of members, had a disproportionate number of MPs or PPCs.
- Perhaps it's unsurprising that Unite is funding Labour's re-election when the tone of this document indicates Tory hostility to the union and their policies would see many of the union's members lose their jobs and the public services they rely on. Kinda comparably shocking to the fox-hunting lobby making donations to Tory campaigns really.
- Charlie Whelan comes across as rather benign given a central Tory allegation is that he stopped "MPs joining the Hoon-Hewitt attack on Brown". What a scoundrel! And he is is "regularly attending meetings in Downing Street, Parliament and Labour HQ". Clearly the behaviour of a revolutionary subversive!
- The funding of CLPs listed by the Tories is derisively small compared to the tens of thousands of pounds Ashcroft has bunged to some Tory associations. The dossier lists an average spend by Unite of just over £3k per constituency. You might be lucky to get half a leaflet to all households with that. I'm not being ungrateful but the average CLP is quite spiky and independent and won't be bought for the sort of sums of money you could raise at a well-run quiz night or barBQ.
- The sums given to cabinet ministers are also laughably small. We are led to believe Cabinet Ministers can be bribed by Charlie Whelan with mega-bucks donations like ... £277.38 to John Denham. I'm sure it will be the 38p that will really decide Denham's position on future local government pay rounds. The two seats held by Cabinet members that have had the most money are merely the ones the Tories are fighting hardest.
- The section about what Unite has done to help Labour's campaign is pretty much consistent with what you would expect the largest affiliate to a political party to do when that party was trying to win an election. Do the Tories find the identical activity and funding of the Democrats by major US unions equally worrying? That would seem strange given their efforts to identify themselves with Obama.
- Apparently one of Whelan's crimes is quoting on Twitter things Brown has said that he agrees with. Is this really the best intel of a rising tide of syndicalism the Tories can come up with? And "Two ‘tweetPhotos’ recently posted by Whelan show how he has been visiting Parliament"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If the Political Director of any major organisation hadn't been "visiting Parliament" they should be sacked. Oh, and on the next page we learn he briefed against Tony Blair. Hold the front page!
- The list of MPs with CLPs funded by Unite rather gives the lie to the accusations it is a new "militant tendency". There's some real old-school ultra-leftists listed there, like err... Margaret Hodge, Bob Ainsworth, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, John Spellar, Tom Watson, Charles Clarke, Alan Johnson. And if that lot aren't red enough in tooth and claw to scare you, look at the "militant" PPCs Unite is backing: Rachel Reeves, Andrew Pakes, Stella Creasy. A list that makes Stalin's politburo look like the SDP's Gang of Four. Or perhaps not.
What a load of old cobblers.
Did anyone tell Richard Balfe, the former MEP and turncoat, who has spent the last couple of years as David Cameron's envoy to the union movement? Yet another piece of mock-triangulation and pretend movement to the centre ground exposed.
The mask has now slipped and we know it's the same old union-bashing Tories - hating unions because they represent an organised way for working people to secure better pay and conditions and thus are inimical to the class interests of people like Cameron and Osborne.