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 A would-be MP is suspended, only to be pardoned once evidence is mysteriously withdrawn.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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