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By Peter Hoskin
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“Beyond
cynical.”
“Shabby
and panicked.”
“The
height of hypocrisy.”
The red corners of the Internet are turning even
redder, today, at the Tory leadership’s attempt to wrap unions in with their
response to the lobbying scandal.

And
dyaknow what? They might have a point. Putting aside the question of whether a
lobbying register will do much good – Paul Goodman argued
earlier
that it won’t – there is something cynical about this
plan
to couple it with limitations on union spending at general elections,
and with tighter audits of union memberships. It appears to be a political ploy
above anything else. So that when Labour decline to agree with the overall
package, they can be maligned as a bunch of pro-lobbyist corruptocrats who are
blocking the change we need, yadda, yadda, yadda. And, in the meantime, nothing
is actually fixed.


This
isn’t to say that the unions don’t need reforming. As Robert Halfon is rightly keen
to point
out
, around a third of union members were Conservative voters ahead of the
last election. I imagine more and more of them are now turning to UKIP. These are
reasons enough for the unions not to be treated as Labour-by-default. And they’re
reasons enough for the union bosses not to lobby the Labour Party at will and
without oversight, nor to lobby freely on the Labour Party’s behalf at election
time.

But
it is to say that measures to reform the unions could be better timed and,
certainly, more carefully prepared. What we’re seeing is another example of
what I’ve highlighted
before
: the Tory leadership doesn’t work to build support from within the
union movement, but prefers to have an almighty scrap with it from time to
time. Some, including the Trade
Union Reform Campaign
and MPs such as Mr Halfon, have tried the former
approach, but the Conservative Party hasn’t followed as a whole. There haven’t
been letter-writing campaigns organised by CCHQ; there hasn’t been a concerted
effort to put Tory-supporting trade unionists in front of the cameras. If there
had, then union reform might today seem more a matter of fairness than of
unrestrained partisanship.    

As
it is, the Lib Dems – let alone Labour – have registered their objections to Tories’ latest
union proposals. So they’re either going to have to be dropped, or we face an
excruciating, drawn-out slog in Parliament that will probably lead nowhere. What
a way to restore trust in politics.

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