It's get-the-unions-day in the CCHQ planning grid and it won't be the last day that Labour's dependence on union money is in party strategists' cross-hairs.
The Labour-union link is fundamental to the choice at the election. The Tories will attempt to persuade voters that the public sector unions – every bit as strong and regressive as the manufacturing and mining unions of the 1970s – will not allow Labour to do what is necessary to reform the public services. Unison's YouTube ad of yesterday – wonderfully spoofed by the TaxPayers' Alliance – was a sign of what the unions plan to unleash in their defence of Labour's bloated and inefficient state.
In a speech in Transport House, Westminster, Michael Gove has laid bare the unions' control of the Labour Party. He highlighted the two most important dimensions: candidates and funding.
Candidates: "Jack Dromey, Unite’s Deputy General Secretary and husband of Harriet Harman, has been selected in the safe seat of Birmingham Erdington. And John Cryer, one of Unite’s political officers, has been selected in the safe seat of Leyton and Wanstead. But this is just the tip of iceberg of a new militant tendency in the next generation of Labour MPs. Ten prospective parliamentary candidates work for trade unions, including the President of the National Union of Mineworkers, Ian Lavery, an open admirer of Scargillism in Wansbeck and Unison’s regional officer, Lilian Greenwood in Nottingham South. And all told, 59 Labour PPCs are members of Unite, 27 are members of the GMB and 19 of Unison."
Funding: "Labour has once again become a wholly owned subsidiary of the big trade unions. In the summer of 2008, only a written guarantee from Unite, stating they would continue to fund Labour in the years to come, kept the bailiffs from party headquarters. And last year, the trade unions furnished Labour with some £10 million. To put this in perspective, that’s sixty percent of what Labour received in total. And over one-third of this figure, £3.6 million, came from a single union – Unite. Indeed, since its inception in 2007, Unite have donated some £11 million to the Labour Party. It is no exaggeration to say that the Labour Party today are bankrolled by the big unions – indebted to their goodwill and dependent on their largesse for survival."
A large part of Mr Gove's speech focuses on the role of Charlie Whelan, Brown's former spin doctor and now the political officer of Unite, the union that is pouring much more money into marginal seats than Lord Ashcroft's target seats operation. Mr Gove then lists some of the policy reverses that union money has purchased:
- Full employment rights for temporary agency workers, imposing a great new burden on employers;
- Retreat on the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, even though Peter Mandelson did say that the status quo at Royal Mail was untenable;
- Ideas to open up supply of NHS services were abandoned after Unison threatened to suspend £100,000 of funding from individual Labour MPs and threatened further sanction if Labour continued the path of reform;
- The Government has put the brakes on the Academy programme;
- Ending the European Working Time Directive opt-out.
And this is only the beginning. Gove offers this insight from "one union insider":
“We hold all the aces, Brown needs our money to fight what will be a massively expensive campaign. But whoever gets into No. 10 there will only be one real winner – the trade union movement”.