Coffee House

The malign influence of trade union extends beyond the takeover of Labour

10 September 2013

10:00 AM

10 September 2013

10:00 AM

Money passes hands. Allegations are made. A would-be MP is suspended, only to be pardoned once evidence is mysteriously withdrawn. Such is the murky world of Labour’s relationship with the trade unions.

Since the revelations of vote rigging in the Falkirk candidate selection the Westminster bubble has become obsessed by a number of questions. How much funding does Labour get from trade unions? (too much), what exactly did they get in return? (Ed Miliband) and will Red Ed will be able to stand up to paymasters? (he won’t).

As Ed Miliband travels to Bournemouth the unseemly brawl of student politics are being writ large in one of the UK’s largest political parties. These arguments, internal and unending, demonstrate once again that the organised left is too busy debating itself to focus on the things that really matter.

But the tragedy is not that Trade Unions don’t understand what matters to ordinary people, it’s that all too often their influence is malign. This Wednesday, Unite are planning a strike that will shut up to 30,000 pubs across the country. Ed Miliband has nothing to say about it.

Last week Britain’s largest teaching unions decided that manning the barricades was the most appropriate response to plans for performance related pay. Stephen Twigg has refused to take a stand against this reckless action.


Yesterday the TUC passed a motion calling for coordinated industrial action. Trade union leaders are aiming to bring about the first general strike since 1926. Not only has Ed Miliband refused to comment on these plans, but he will give his first speech since the summer in the TUC’s den.

Labour MPs love to say that the union link gives them grounding in the lives of everyday people. But the trade union movement of today is not an accurate representation of the hardworking people of this country. Their priorities are not the priorities of voters.

Ordinary trade unionists must wonder what on earth they pay their subscriptions for when they see the fiasco over Falkirk. It’s a signs of a fundamental disconnection between union members and the union barons.

We all know about trade union fat cats, but the role of a General Secretary has become every bit as urbane and gentrified as other professions. Bankers have Canary Warf and the City, lawyers have the Inns of Court, and trade unions have the Euston Road. The headquarters of Unison, Unite, the TUC, RMT, TSSA and NUT all share a square mile patch in central London just to the south of Euston station.

Ahead of the last election Populus found that a third of Unite members planned to vote for the Conservative Party. That is the same Conservative Party that was promising, and are delivering, tough decisions to deal with deficit, welfare changes and education reform. Trade union leaders and the Labour Party stood against our plans then, and are against them still.

A YouGov poll for Labour Uncut showed this week that 63 per cent of union members want to see less power for unions in the Labour Party. Len McCluskey meanwhile promises that he will fight any attempts to weaken his union’s power. His union is responsible for over a quarter of all Labour’s donations since September 2010.

Labour has received £25,021,458.83 from the trade unions while Ed Miliband has been leader. GMB and Unison have reduced their funding of Labour in line with members wishes, but there’s a growing clamour to know why only Labour receives union funding, when their members support all parties. It is indicative of the movement’s failure to capture the mood of their own members.

Those trade unionists who voted Conservative in 2010 must be feeling vindicated. The economy is turning the corner and we are making sure work pays – but the trade union dinosaurs and their political wing in the Labour Party have nothing new to offer but strikes and internal strife.

Trade unions have lost their mandate to represent hardworking people, and unless the Labour Party changes they’ll never regain their mandate to govern.

Priti Patel is the Conservative MP for Witham

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Show comments
  • davebush999

    Ms Patel – the cheerleader for the obscene Bahrain regime. They don’t allow unions over there.

  • David Lindsay

    Oh, please! How would you know? The fact that you are a Conservative MP proves conclusively that you come from an immensely privileged background and have never met anyone who did not, and that any claims to the contrary, on Wikipedia or wherever, are lies. It is always amusing the hear the Tories go on about “ordinary people”. As if you would know!

    • roger

      What an excellent and wholly accurate article.
      Your response to it DL is so wildly inaccurate to be laughable.

      • David Lindsay


    • Hello

      You see, when people say “ordinary” they mean “normal”, and that can be taken to be the mean, the average. Now, the Conservative party, you could argue, is slightly loaded on the upper class side, but by and large it is composed of the middle class, with a healthy representation of those from working class backgrounds. This largely reflects the makeup of the country, where more than two thirds considers themselves middle class.

      Now, on the other hand, I would postulate that the Labour party is far more heavily weighted towards the working class than the Conservative party is towards the upper class, and so I’d suggest that the Labour party is further detached from “ordinary” than the Conservative party.

      I think that your mistake is to see “ordinary” and assume “poor”, but no matter, this is an unfortunate proclivity of the left.

      • David Lindsay


        If there are any “normal” people in the Conservative Party, then they are there to serve the drinks. They never, ever, ever become MPs.

        And 50 per cent of Labour Party members are teachers.

        • Hello

          Well we are of course not talking about “members”, not that having 50 per cent of your members in a single occupation can be considered “normal” or “representative” outside the sphere of narrow-minded socialism.

          Your accusation was that being a Conservative MP implies privilege, which it does of course but not in the sense you meant, rather in the sense that it is a privilege, an earned one, you would no doubt agree, but nevertheless we digress.

          In any case, your statement is unfounded and loaded with prejudice. A quick perusal of the cabinet alone will tell you that it is mostly composed of people from middle class backgrounds. Few of them could be described as coming from privilege, in the sense of anything out-of-the-ordinary.

          • HookesLaw

            He has never heard of Lord Sainsbury or lord Adonis

        • Chris lancashire

          You don’t think you could maybe, possibly, be a little teensy-weensy biased towards the old stereotyped class warfare could you?

        • Flintshire Ian

          Anyone dim enough to be a card carrying member of the Labour Party should be automatically disqualified from being a teacher

        • Kennybhoy

          “And 50 per cent of Labour Party members are teachers.”

          The prosecution rests it’s case m’lud. 🙂

        • sarah_13

          What are you talking about?!!!! Margaret hatcher was prime minister!! Plenty of ordinary people are conservative. Where have you been living. We don’t all drag our working class identity around as if it were some kind of badge of honour. Grow up.

          • Paul Bishop

            I would have thought the majority of working class actually aspire to be or are Conservative voters. There’s little to be gained by clinging tenaciously to your working class roots like the last violinist on the Titanic. Those who are resolutely labour are either the underclass or those professionals in the public sector who hanker back to their youth and see disruption, such as strikes, as simply being part of the game.

        • La Fold

          Teachers eh?
          Explains why Labour seems to be full of fantasists who never grew out of simplistic and juveline sixth form politics who love to reminisce about the time they staged a sit-in at the canteen for fairtrade chocolate or whatever white, university educated, middle class kids complain about these days.

          • Russell

            Teachers with the same characteristics as labour MP’s. They shout louder and louder when losing a discussion, they wag their fingers and interrupt anyone else speaking a different view to their own. And of course many of them (the ones who are either ‘Pilgrims’, not teachers, are in it for what they can get for themselves).
            They couldn’t care less about the children they are meant to be teaching, just as Labour MP’s couldn’t care less about their constituents.

            • La Fold

              Having a discussion with my mates sister in law who happens to be a secondary school Modern Studies teacher.
              We were discussing her all expenses paid school trip to the alps and I said its good to see even more of my taxes being spent on sending teachers on holidays she said “no youre not, the EU pays for it.”
              I merely pointed out where the EU gets its money from and she went completely off the reservation at me and before I knew it I was “Stealing her kids holiday from them!”
              I asked her if she might be upset because I was actually trying not to pay for her and her colleagues to go on holiday instead and she stormed out of my mates house. Toys right out of the pram.
              Anecdotal i know but sums up the mentality perfectly.

              • Russell

                Labour MP’s regularly say the EU paid for a new road etc., not the government!
                They are either really unintelligent people or ?????????….No they really ARE unintelligent people.
                Who in their right mind would want people like this teaching their children or in a government of this country?
                About time some government representatives made some effort to show all these labour voters/supporters what they are voting for, and did it every day and at every opportunity, something they haven’t been doing.

                • La Fold

                  Yes, living in Scotland I often have to, ahem, debate with plastic, armchair bolshevik, socialists who have huge mortgages and maxed out credit cards then work for Halliburtons yet decry the evils of capitalism.
                  Yet point out the hypocrysy and the name calling and shouting starts.

      • Ron Todd

        The Labour party is weighted towards the public sector which includes a lot of people that get very good wages. Labour has a rich posh boy as a leader, the Liberals have a posh boy with a rich wife as a leader and the Tories have a very posh boy with a very rich wife as a leader. I am working class and I do not see any of them representing me.

    • Kennybhoy

      You really are an ungentlemanly cur Lindsay.

    • dmitri the impostor

      It seems to me that your entire life, work, movement
      and being is just one gigantic fallacy of apriorism. The Labour Party is
      infallible because it is the source of all virtue. The Labour Party is the
      source of all virtue because it is infallible.

      It is pointless to cite evidence which might count
      against this claim because, a priori, there can be none. So don’t even bother
      citing Norman Tebbit, John Major, William Hague or Eric Pickles. None of them
      have ever seen so much as a working class person getting on a bus. Because
      they’re Tories. Anything in Wikipedia, Who’s Who or the Register of Births
      Marriages and Deaths that says different is just a Tory plot. Do you hear? A
      nasty, stinking Tory plot. So just shut up. Labour Party: infallible.
      Infallible: Labour Party. Shut up. Not listening. Tory plot.