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By Tim Montgomerie
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Cameron Arrows

"The trade unions, over this Parliament, under a Conservative-led Government, will still receive more than £500 million pounds of taxpayers’ money."

I'll repeat that:

"The trade unions, over this Parliament, under a Conservative-led Government, will still receive more than £500 million pounds of taxpayers’ money."

And we know where a lot of union money goes, don't we?


During the last election many Tory MPs and, more pertinently, many defeated Tory candidates will testify to the impact of trade union leaflets and campaigners on the course of their election campaigns. Whether it is grassroots organisation in favour of the Labour Party, sponsorship of local Labour MPs, bankrolling the national Labour Party or running national advertising campaigns against Coalition policies the leadership of the trade union movement (and I stress the leadership)… are the political enemies of the Conservative Party. And so let me repeat it a third time:

"The trade unions, over this Parliament, under a Conservative-led Government, will still receive more than £500 million pounds of taxpayers’ money."

Those are the words of Conservative MP Aidan Burley, co-founder of the Trade Union Reform Campaign, during a Westminster Hall debate on trade union funding yesterday. The debate was initiated by Fiona Bruce MP and included many powerful contributions from a variety of Conservative MPs. Burley noted that unions "received £113 million last year and £80 million in paid time for staff." He continued:

"As I have said, under the Conservative-led Government, they will still get more than £500 million. It is right that we ask whether that money could be better spent on the front line. That sum buys a hell of a lot of nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers."

One of the most important contributions was from Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow. Robert insisted that the Conservatives were not against trade unions. They do fine work, he insisted. He's right but as Fiona Bruce argued in the debate the light needs to be shone brightly on the huge subsidy that the union movement receives from local and national taxpayers.

Cutting the flow of money to the trade union movement should not be an incidental project for the Conservatives. At a time of austerity it is unreasonable that trade unions receive such public largesse but reform is also central to Tory hopes of winning more seats at the next election. Squeeze the trade unions' finances and we squeeze our political opponents' ability to use taxpayers' money to prevent a Conservative majority.

One of the Conservative MPs who most understands what is at stake is Jake Berry. "Tackling trade union funding must be at the top of our agenda when seeking to win the next election," he told ConservativeHome. And he identifies, perhaps, the most important reform that we need to make:

"There are serious questions for the Labour party here about inadvertent giving through the political levy. This must become an opt-in not remain an opt-out. This is a totemic issue for Labour as they know the way they get their cash is a slight of hand and they are desperate for it not to stop.  Changing the levy would be a game changer for the Conservatives."

I have written to David Cameron today asking whether he will implement this game-changer and turn the political levy into an opt-in arrangement. Individuals should have to decide pro-actively that they want to pay into the trade unions. They shouldn't have to write to their employer and union asking to contract out. We need a multi-pronged campaign against subsidy of the union movement but reform of the political levy should be central to that campaign. The wider aims of the Trade Union Reform Campaign should be introduced in full:

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