Ashcroft and the unions


7:00 am - March 17th 2010

by Claude Carpentieri    


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The acute observer may have noted that, whenever the scandal of multi-millionaire non-dom top party donor Lord Ashcroft is brought up, the Tories’ default reaction is “yeah but the Unions too, they bankroll Labour”.

Let’s leave aside the long list of differences (technical, fiscal, substantial, ethical, practical, etc) between the two types of “donations”. Let’s leave aside “solemn and binding” promises.

The best way to gauge weight and influence as carried by Lord Ashcroft vs the Unions is to check the relationship between donors and political parties.

Not a single senior Tory has publicly said a bad thing against the Belize-based tycoon. They said a lot of things, but nothing bad. And how could they, given that the Baron has pumped around £5m into Tory coffers?

Now look instead at how Labour is actively laying into Unite the Union in the middle of a delicate industrial dispute with British Airways.

There’s a trade union “proudly” handing around £3.6m a year to the Labour Party and publicly announcing that they made “tens of thousands of calls” to their members urging them to vote Labour at the forthcoming elections.

So what does the Labour Party do in return?

Public support would be too much, so forget that. How about neutrality and balance in the midst of the biggest industrial dispute of the year so far, that is the British Airways strike?

Fat chance. First, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis echoed BA boss as he called the strike “totally unjustified”. “I absolutely deplore the strike”, the unelected Baron told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, adding that “it poses a threat” to the future of BA.

But Adonis went further. Sounding like your average Daily Mail column, he warned that “passengers should not be held to ransom by [Unite]”.

Yesterday Gordon Brown joined in. Again, he slammed the strike as “deplorable and unjustified”. Can you imagine David Cameron or George Osborne using those words against their biggest donor?

For 13 years, Britain’s unions have acted like a battered dog who keeps going back to its tormentor.

With few exceptions, like the Fire Brigade Union (which, to their honour, disaffiliated in 2004), the unions keep getting the shit kicked out of them by the Party but then always crawl back, cheque in hand, to Master Labour.

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About the author
Claude is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at: Hagley Road to Ladywood
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Trade Unions

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Reader comments


1. Alisdair Cameron

What I don’t get is how Mr Whelan gets away with channelling so much of ‘his’ union’s resources to his beloved New labour (not just the money, but the telephone banks etc) while that same New labour clique has acted and continues to act against the interests of the union members. Who really runs Unite, and in whose interests? Yes, campaign against the Tories, but for goodness’ sake don’t bankroll the similar neo-liberal union-bashers of New labour. What happened to the talk of Unite (and other unions) not funding labour nationally (for such funds would be commandeered by the likes of Mandelson) but individually, on an MP/PPC by MP/PPC basis?

I think they are doing that.

I read (sorry can’t recall the source) that half the likely new Labour MP’s will be sponsored (whatever that means precisely) by Unite.

Great.

Well, I’d say the default reaction is “yeah but non-doms bankroll Labour too”. Unions are the fallback position.

If union members are content to see their money going to Labour year after year despite [supposedly] getting nothing in return (except for the Modernisation fund, of course…) then that is really a matter between themselves and their leaders.

Good article. The unions must be masochists for giving the Labour Party so much money

Now look instead at how Labour is actively laying into Unite the Union in the middle of a delicate industrial dispute with British Airways.

Didn’t the Daily Mash cover this one?

Downing Street sources confirmed Mr Brown had telephoned Unite general secretary Tony Woodley on Sunday to ask for instructions and money and that Mr Woodley had set out his plans for the prime minister to look very angry and use the word ‘unjustified’.

Labour might be funded by the unions but the only people they listen to are Murdoch, Dacre and Desmond.

With few exceptions, like the Fire Brigade Union (which, to their honour, disaffiliated in 2004), the unions keep getting the shit kicked out of them by the Party but then always crawl back, cheque in hand, to Master Labour.

Weird, isn’t it?

Why don’t they disaffiliate and start over?

Why don’t they disaffiliate and start over?

I strongly suspect it’s got something to do with the Iron Law of Institutions:

The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

You will also note that nobody in the Labour party concealed information about how much they were funded by Unite, unlike the Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary. Admittedly because that information was already public, but doesn’t that illustrate the difference in approach? The Conservatives seriously believe that you can take huge amounts of money from businessmen and not be affected, while huge amounts of money from unions will make you their servants, somehow.

The Tories did not hide the amounts from Ashcroft – those have to be disclosed by law.

What was hidden was his tax status.

Labour’s former General Secretary said in his memoirs that Harriet Harman’s hubby had offered 2 million to Labour pretty much on condition that he got a safe seat.

If Ashcroft had demanded a safe seat in the Commons for his own dosh, we’d never hear the end of it. Yet when a union boss gets a seat with members’ money……… eerie silence.

Daniel Finkelstein is reporting on a Populus poll of Unite members that shows a majority backing Cameron and the Tories, yet their bosses are supporting Labour.

Funny way to run things, eh?

“Daniel Finkelstein is reporting on a Populus poll of Unite members that shows a majority backing Cameron and the Tories, yet their bosses are supporting Labour.

Funny way to run things, eh?”

They could always put up a slate of candidates committed to cutting the link to Labour, especially if the bloke (can’t be bothered looking up his name, sorry) running the BA strike is really expected to be the next general secretary. For all its faults Unite is a democracy, just seemingly one that is run by lizards…

As a trade unionist I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be pissed off with Labour governments since 1997. The best reason I have come up with for continuing to support Labour has been that the tories need to be opposed. Its a pretty sad state that this is the best I could do.

Florence, you are such a typical bloody ignorant tory. Ashcroft is nobody’s friend but his own and he stands to do the tory party a lot of damage.

My union, Unison, gives members a chance to opt out from supporting Labour while contributing to a general political fund. I think this has always been a positive policy as non-Labour workers need support in the workplace just as much as anyone else.

I think there’s a lot of unreported stuff in the BA dispute. I have no doubt that Walsh wants to de-unionise his workforce and has been using some dirty tactics. What Unite think they’re doing is a mystery to me, they don’t seem to be very smart.

14. Chris Baldwin

I hope the voters know that, despite the pathetic reaction of Brown, Adonis et al, there are many of us in the Labour Party who wholeheartedly support the BA workers.

15. Just Visiting

Claude the cash you mentioned is asymmetric:

Ashcroft – £5m total

Unite – £3.6m a year

16. Just Visiting

And maybe the reason Labour spoke out is on election-is-coming grounds:

Pissing off a lot of travelling citizens was going to be a (bad) media story for a while to come, and labour would look stupid if they kept on refusing to say anything

And meanwhile Unite being criticised would become described as ‘Unite who bankroll the labout party’ being criticised.

Just Visiting, those donors you mentioned are asymmetric:

Ashcroft – One person

Unite – Oh, at least 2 people…


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Tim Ireland

    RT @libcon: Ashcroft and the unions http://bit.ly/cSAqQG

  2. Ben Cooper

    RT @libcon: Ashcroft and the unions http://bit.ly/cSAqQG think @theday2day might enjoy this one! 🙂

  3. Kate B

    RT @libcon: Ashcroft and the unions http://bit.ly/cSAqQG >> a pertinent piece

  4. Justin McKeating

    Ashcroft and the unions… http://bit.ly/cSAqQG

  5. Leon Green

    RT @chickyog Ashcroft and the unions… http://bit.ly/cSAqQG

  6. Adam White

    good libcon piece on the Union/Ashcroft furore http://bit.ly/9FQlju and my TCF bit on the same subject http://bit.ly/cqWEjM

  7. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ashcroft and the unions http://bit.ly/cSAqQG

  8. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by libcon: Ashcroft and the unions http://bit.ly/cSAqQG





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