By Mark Wallace
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Campaigning journalist Ted Jeory, who keep a close eye on politics in east London, has an interesting scoop.
Having clocked that Len McCluskey of Unite and Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman had suddenly become best buddies earlier in the year, Ted did some digging through the council's papers.
Lo and behold, Tower Hamlets have given £64,000 of taxpayers' money to a Unite community centre (the union is putting in £140,000 and Barclays is contributing £60,000).
The stated aim of the centre is to help people find work or gain new skills. However, it has another purpose:
"The Unite Community Centre is also a Unite recruiting office. The staff are all very friendly, but also very enthusiastic about their employer. The office is stuffed full of leaflets on the negative effects of Coalition cuts and how to join and fight these. One man who’s been in there said he was encouraged to join during a discussion on how the centre could help him."
So this isn't just the commissioning of public services from an outside body, it's a taxpayer-funded platform for political campaigning, too. It's a classic entryist tactic – go in with an apparently respectable mission, then use your newfound status (and cash) to pursue political ends.
If Barclays' shareholders are happy supporting Len McCluskey's political crusade with their money, then that's their choice (though I doubt they've been consulted). For yet more taxpayers' money to be used to that end is utterly wrong, however.
Lutfur Rahman runs Tower Hamlets with the backing of a tentative coalition between his own supporters and the local Labour Party. Ted's blog reports:
"The minutes also show that no councillor declared any interests. Presumably, this means that no councillor is a member of Europe’s largest trade union"
Unite, as we know, are the Labour party's biggest donor. Not only would there be a conflict of interest if any of those approving this grant were Unite members, but there is an inherent conflict of interest in Labour councillors approving a scheme to hand money and a recruitment opportunity to the body that gives their party millions of pounds each year.
Len, it seems, gets his way remarkably often.