By Mark Wallace
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Last week, writing up Ed Miliband's speech on Labour's trade union scandal, I raised a number of practical questions about how the reforms will work. Len McCluskey's interview in today's Guardian helpfully answers the first of them
"Len McCluskey told the BBC Miliband is not calling for an opt-in to the union Political Funds generally. Does this mean unions could just split their Affiliation and Political Funds, allowing them to carry on automatically opting members in to finance hard left campaigns? Will Miliband pledge not to accept lump sum donations from such Political Funds?"
Len makes perfectly clear that this is exactly his plan:
The Unite general secretary concedes that if few union members affiliate individually, the coffers of the union's political fund will correspondingly swell since the fund is not being used to pay large-scale affiliation fees to the party. Some of that money, McCluskey argued, could be used as donations to Labour with the union bailing out the party if it got into trouble.
So the loophole I identified exists and Unite plan to exploit it, by creating separate Affiliation and Political Funds, continuing the automatic opt-in to the Political Fund and using that money for lump sum donations to Labour (as well as funding their own political campaigns). Unite members will continue to have their cash taken without their consent and used for causes that many of them do not support.
The challenge must be made to Miliband that he should refuse to accept such donations, or his claim to only want money from people who make a "deliberate choice" to support Labour will be meaningless.
Due to this loophole, Unite's influence will continue – or even grow, given that such donations would be at the discretion of McCluskey rather than automatically paid as affiliation fees. Barely a week has gone by since the speech was delivered and already Red Len is laying out the policy commitments he is demanding in return for his money:
Policies highlighted by McCluskey as likely to be popular with his members included repealing the bedroom tax on excess rooms in council homes, opposing the welfare cap, breaking with "austerity spending", building 1m extra homes and increasing the statutory £6.19 an hour minimum wage by £1.50 an hour.
A CCHQ estimate costs those proposals alone at £63.2 billion over the next five years – not counting the damage to Britain's standing as an investment destination that would result from such a return to spend, spend, spend. In his panic, it seems the Labour leader has put himself at the financial mercy of people who demand fiscal policies which would devastate the country and deliver the final blow to Labour's badly wounded economic credibility.
While Miliband's speech fulfilled its short term objective of interrupting the "Labour in crisis" narrative, it is increasingly clear it has failed the outright purchase of power and policy by the trade unions.