Theresa May asked for a Parliamentary debate on back-door union funding of the Labour movement in Business Questions yesterday:

"Two of Labour’s deputy leadership candidates want more taxpayers’ money to go to the unions. The Solicitor-General said: “We should do more to fund the trade unions” and the Labour party chairman said: “A Labour Government can expand the Union Modernisation Fund”. Last year, unions received £3 million of taxpayers’ money through that fund. In the rest of the year, those same unions gave £4.3 million to the Labour party. In the next few years, a further £7 million of taxpayers’ money will be given to the unions, who will continue to fund the Labour party."

Jack Straw merely responded by harking back to the Conservative Party’s "partisan attacks" on the unions in the 1980s, and saying accused May of offending millions of trade unionists.

The Department of Trade and Industry says the purpose of the UMF is to:

“provide financial assistance to independent trade unions
and their federations in support of innovative projects which speed
unions’ adaptation to a changing labour market and new ways of working.
It is envisaged that the size of the Fund will be in the region of £5-£10
million in total, with funding spread over several years, beginning
in 2005/06.”

As this dossier compiled by May shows, a majority of the members of the UMF’s Supervisory Board (which decides on funding) are senior trade unionists themselves. The minister who set up the fund, Gerry Sutcliffe, is Alan Johnson’s campaign manager and a union member with "two decades of unbroken commitment" to the unions.

That there is a correlation between unions donating money to the Labour Party, and the government bankrolling the unions, is clear. The Conservatives haven’t committed to scrapping the UMF yet, but they surely will.

Deputy Editor