Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ed Milliband is playing a dangerous game with the trade union link

One of the reasons the Tories find it so easy to kick Ed Milliband is that  he wanders around with a "please kick me" sign pinned to the seat of his trousers. The latest revelations that Unite had no case to answer in the 'Falkirkgate' election-rigging debacle, and Labour's refusal to apologise for getting it wrong, and for its ridiculous decision to refer Unite to the police, is a spectacular own-goal. Following an investigation into alleged election-rigging by Unite in Falkirk, according to the Independent, :
The [Labour] report is said to have cleared Unite of claims it tried to rig the selection of a candidate to replace the current MP, Eric Joyce, by signing up new members without their knowledge. The fall-out from an internal party investigation led to Mr Miliband announcing sweeping reforms of Labour's links with the trade unions.
Milliband was pretty much suckered into wrongly attacking Unite and promising to change Labour Party's relationship with the unions, because of Tory howls of outrage when the alleged election-rigging incident came to light in the summer. What Milliband ought to have have done is call for an investigation and reserved judgement until the full facts were know, but he doesn't appear to have that kind of nous. What he also ought to have done is to robustly defend the link that Labour has with the trade unions, and the funding that comes with it. Whilst there may be issues with whether union members should 'opt-in' rather than 'opt-out' of funding Labour, the fact is that trade union money is just about the cleanest money in politics. It comes from what are small donations by millions of members of democratic organisations, and it is fully auditable - just compare that with the filthy lucre political parties receive from corporate donors and wealthy individuals.

Lets look at the funding of the Tory Party for instance. Would it surprise you to know that one family, yes one family, is responsible for a huge amount of Tory Party funding. You should take time to read this excellent post by Aditya Chakrabotty in the Guardian, but here is a telling quote:
"Take the JCB billionaire Sir Anthony Bamford, one of Cameron's favourite businessmen and a regular guest on the PM's trade missions abroad. Between 2001 and summer 2010, Wilks-Heeg and Crone found donations from Anthony Bamford, Mark Bamford, George Bamford, JCB Bamford Excavators, JCB Research, and JCB World Brands. Tot that up and you get a contribution to the Conservative party from the Bamford family of £3,898,900. But you'd need to be an expert sleuth with plenty of time and resources to tot it up.
One family: nearly £4m. Wilks-Heeg and Crone found that 15 of these families or "donor groups" account for almost a third of all Tory funding [my italics]. They enjoy trips to Chequers, dinners in Downing Street and a friendly prime ministerial ear. Lord Irvine Laidlaw stuffed over £6m into Conservative pockets over a decade and, one of his former staffers told the Mail, liked to boast about his influence over party leaders: "William's [Hague] in my pocket"."
There is no doubt that Milliband's plan to change the relations with the unions is a big risk. They have already lost £1 million in funding from the GMB as a result. No doubt Milliband is counting on the fact that union funding now only accounts for one third of Labour's total, but the consequences of the unions abandoning Labour are far more serious than just a loss of funding. Without the bedrock of support from the labour movement what long-term future would Labour have? There is only room in British politics for one party of the right, and the Tories have had position that sown up for a very long time. Since the advent of New Labour, the  Labour Party has become a party of the centre-right, not centre-left as it used to be. Can Labour survive in the long term as such a party only funded by corporations and individuals? I don't think so. I have no doubt would it gradually wither and lose its base of support. That opens up an opportunity for a social democratic party of the left, with trade union support.

The likelihood is that nothing dramatic will happen until after the next election. If Labour win, as I expect them to, and continue on their present course, expect unrest to grow, with more widespread protests against welfare cuts and strike action to defend living standards and pensions. Millband is playing a dangerous game, and one that could change British politics forever.

No comments: