Recent Westminster Articles



In defence of @rustyrockets and his politics, on Newsnight

by Sunny Hundal     October 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm

The comedian Russell Brand was on Newsnight last night, and although I was sceptical about watching the interview at first, it turned out to be much more entertaining and insightful than I expected.

Like the rest of Westminster, my first reaction to hearing that Brand had never voted, and didn’t feel like voting, was to pour scorn all over him: what right does he have to preach about politics then? But after watching the video, I realised that I was missing the point. Brand isn’t apathetic about politics, he is apathetic to our current state of affairs.

One of my maxims in politics is, never blame the voters. Yes, they’re frequently contradictory in their views and generally clueless about policies, but they behave on instinct and emotion, and that is important because the world would be an awful place if cold rationality drove politics.

Politicos usually agree that you shouldn’t blame voters, but they invariably do so anyway. They’re criticised for voting against their own interests or supporting other parties or sitting at home on election day. It’s tempting to criticise people for making different decisions to you, but it’s also silly.

My defence of Russell Brand is that he’s simply articulating this contradictory anger. People just want a better world and they’re not seeing anyone offer them to it. They’re just seeing people in Westminster talk in incomprehensible language while offering solutions that sound roughly the same. It has become a system geared towards the remaining voters, not all citizens.

Our political system is too narrow. If the proportion of people who didn’t vote were all captured by one party, it would be the largest in Parliament. Non-voters are the majority party, and their proportion has been growing steadily since 1945. And yet, even to a close watcher like me, Westminster politics frequently feels like two bald men fighting over a comb. There are no bold solutions on offer because the system has been captured by middle-class wonks and those paralysed by narrow interpretations of polling.

Even Tom Watson said this recently:

It’s been missing from the Labour Party since Tony Blair marched us into the arid desert of pragmatism that was so electorally successful. It’s belief. Belief in ourselves. Belief in the great cause of social progress. The marketing men, the spin people and the special advisers: they’ve won. For those brief minutes of Drenge I wanted to sack them all.

Brand will find sympathy for his frustrated outpouring because he is articulating a deep frustration, even among people who do vote. They don’t necessarily want a whole new system, they just want someone who emotionally engages them.

Politicos scoff at the fact that Brand hasn’t offered a comprehensive alternative, but that’s not his job that is the job of people who do this for a living.

Cameron added young people to his list of Britain’s scapegoats

by Guest     October 14, 2013 at 9:17 am

by Matt Whittley

Operation divide and rule has been in full swing since the Tories came to power in 2010. Working hard but struggling to get by on a low income? Blame your unemployed neighbour, or the immigrant down the street, or those fat-cat public sector workers with their bloated salaries and pensions.

In his conference speech, Cameron added young people to his list of scapegoats when he implied that they are in their droves leaving school, getting knocked up and opting for a life on benefits, as he outlined his plan to remove housing benefit for those under 25s not in employment, education or training.

Consider the case of a 24 year old that started working aged 16 or 17, and so has contributed for 7 or 8 years but has just lost their job. Is this person not worthy of temporary support to help them get back on their feet? Are they really, after years of independence, expected to return to their childhood bedroom? And are their parents really expected to welcome them (and their grandchildren, if their child has had kids of their own) back with open arms?

What about the 20,000 young people who, 12 months after graduating, are still out of work? These young people spent three years working hard to better themselves. Many then took (often unpaid) internships – ‘doing the right thing’ as Cameron calls it. Have these people opted for a life on benefits?

What about those living in areas of high unemployment who are contemplating ‘getting on their bike’ to go where the work is? The logical conclusion for them to draw is that they would be better off staying in the family home and out of work. The Tories say they are on the side of hard-working people, but their support doesn’t seem to extend to those who have the audacity to have been born after 1988.

Cameron is also assuming that all young people have a loving, stable home to return to, and from his ivory tower of privilege this is probably an easy assumption to make. But what about those fleeing violent or abusive homes, or those kicked out by their parents? What about the 6,000 young people leaving care every year, many of whom rely on housing benefit as they attempt to make a life for themselves?

This policy clearly hasn’t been thought through, and Cameron may well have made a rod for his own back with this. Either he guarantees a job, training place or apprenticeship for all of the 1.09 million young people not in employment, education or training (a mammoth task), or he is seen to punish young people for refusing to take jobs, training places and apprenticeships that simply don’t exist.

Young people, who had no role to play in causing the financial crisis, won’t have been surprised by Cameron’s announcement to strip them of their social security. This from a government that has trebled university tuition fees, abolished the Educational Maintenance Allowance and presided over an economy in which 21% of young people are now out of work.

Of course we need to support those young people who have become cut adrift from society and help them into work or education. But with five people chasing every job, this government is failing miserably to create the opportunities they deserve. And demonising the young and threatening to remove their benefits won’t change that.

Five ways Ed Miliband and Labour can keep ex-Lib Dem voters in 2015

by Guest     September 27, 2013 at 1:37 pm

by Andy May

It was a strange feeling watching this week’s Labour conference.  Once a political enemy, I could conceivably be voting for the party in 2015.

I joined the Liberal Democrats over a decade ago, and worked for two MPs. My parents are founder members of the SDP.  I won’t go into my reasons for leaving – these are self-evident. Clegg is the best recruiting sergeant that disaffected centre-left voters Labour could ever want.

Instead let’s concentrate on five things Labour might do to convince the swathe of progressives who voted Lib Dem in 2010. These people hold the key to a Labour victory in 2015. Many of them, like me, are as yet undecided.

I have discounted the obvious… like not privatise the NHS or entrench inequality in education – plus there has been enough on energy already!

Here are five that specifically push Lib Dem buttons:

1. The Economy
Totemic policies such as the introduction of the minimum wage in the early Blair years have been eclipsed in the minds of voters by mismanagement and light touch regulation in the run up to the financial crash.  Ed Balls made a shrewd move towards rehabilitation by announcing he would submit Labour’s spending plans to the Office for Budget Responsibility. But more reassurance will be needed. I want to see the positive role of the state championed without the irresponsible spending and incompetent implementation that came with the Blair era.

2.  Environmental policy
Invest in renewables not fracking; tackle energy inefficiency in homes and vehicles; properly fund the Green Investment bank.  Plenty more where that came from, but with the Lib Dems in government supporting a dash for gas and failing on initiatives such as the Green deal, Miliband has an opportunity to outflank my former party. 

3. Democracy, lobbying and big money in politics.
Miliband is one of the most progressive leaders Labour has ever had on constitutional issues. He deserves more credit than he got for supporting Yes2AV, after fierce opposition from many in his party.  He must support PR in the House of Lords, or local government along with party funding reform and lobbying transparency. This will only get noticed by 5-10% of the electorate, but many will be those all-important ex Lib Dem voters. To achieve this some in Labour will need to understand their party does not have a monopoly on progressive political thought.

4. Housing
Most of my twenty and thirty something friends cannot conceive of a time they could afford a deposit.  200,000 new homes a year by 2020 is welcome – the difficulty will be doing this in a sustainable manner that doesn’t wreck the same communities that would benefit from fresh housing stock.   Frankly anything sounds good compared to the Governments half-baked Help to Buy scheme.

5. Civil Liberties
When Sadiq Khan claims Labour now the party of civil liberties all I can do is think back to 28 days detention, ID cards, illegal rendition… and laugh.  I think it naïve to make such a claim although Sadiq’s personal record is commendable.  Labour need to show they not succumb to scaremongering by the shadowy figures in the home office bureaucracy with clear human rights based framework to privacy and security, rejecting the authoritarian excesses of the last Labour government.

Here’s hoping Ed can do it if Clegg cannot. -his speech certainly warmed the cockles of my heart.

I and other social liberals and democrats would prefer not to be stuck in the political wilderness for the rest of our lives.


Andy May is a communications consultant, and formerly worked in as a constituency organiser for the Liberal Democrats.

Five observations from Brighton: how Ed Miliband is changing the debate

by Sunny Hundal     September 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Ignore the hysterical press reaction to Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices in 2015 for now.

The Labour leader’s speech at the annual party conference also offered intriguing clues about his future direction. Here are some of my observations.

1) On Tuesday afternoon you could hear a huge sigh of relief across Brighton. The leader of the party had delivered a powerful speech that reassured party faithful nerves and gave them tangible policies to sell on the doorstep. Someone on Twitter said aptly that Labour had gone ‘from Pamphlet Labour to Leaflet Labour’.

These aren’t election winning promises yet, and Miliband will unveil a lot more in the next 20 months, but he decisively batted away questions about his leadership, the party’s future direction and supposed lack of meaty policies. He is secure in his position.

2) Remember how everyone slammed ‘predistribution’ as a clunky and academic word? Well, Miliband’s focus on the ‘cost of living crisis’ is his translation of that word. The focus of ‘predistribution‘ is that governments need to create more equal outcomes even before collecting taxes and redistributing them as benefits.

Miliband’s view is that the only way this cost of living crisis will be averted is through a more fundamental remodelling of how our economy works. That clunky word is no more. It will now be referred to as the Cost of Living crisis.

3) Using the slogan ‘Britain can do better‘ is also important because Miliband wants to position Labour as the party of optimism – not simply one of slightly better spending cuts – and challenge the fatalism of TINA (‘there is no alternative’).

I wrote earlier this year that pessimism about the UK economy could be Labour’s biggest problem in 2015, because voters may simply think Labour cannot do any better. Miliband will directly and forcefully challenge that. It’s a slogan I hope every Labour MP repeats endlessly, with conviction and examples.

4) One of the strongest lines in Miliband’s speech was: “Cameron may be strong when it comes to the weak, but he is always weak when standing up against the strong.”

It wasn’t just a good soundbite but part of a broader strategy. Miliband wants to redefine what is seen as being strong and weak, as our prevailing macho political culture always defines ‘strength’ as taking ‘tough decisions’ (usually against the most vulnerable people). But by taking on Murdoch, halting the rush into Syria and taking on energy companies, Miliband wants to show that strength means standing up vested interests, not cutting social security benefits.

5) By far the strongest re-shuffle rumour was that Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham would swap their briefs. Burnham is widely seen as having done extraordinarily well as shadow health secretary and there will be cries of horror if he is moved. Plus, wouldn’t Cooper’s move be seen as a demotion?

Not exactly, a Labour shadow minister told me. Both Cooper and Burnham want a range of portfolios to their name, in case a there’s a leadership bid in the distant future. Burnham needs something a bit more gritty like the shadow Home Secretary brief, while Cooper needs a populist and softer brief like Health. So it may suit and be welcomed by both.

Is Sadiq Khan right to say that Labour is now the party of civil liberties?

by Robert Sharp     September 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked of predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.

Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite.

For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:

And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.

If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.

Meanwhile, at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, delegates have approved motion F41 [PDF], a reaffirmation of their party’s committment to human rights and the Human Rights Act.

These debates make me happy. What Khan and McNally’s comments show is that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have begun to see the promotion of human rights as a vote winner. This is by no means a given in British politics, and not something to be taken for granted.

Regardless of Labour’s past failures, or the Liberal Democrats’ current, shaky record in office, we should still applaud these commitments to protect the Human Rights Act.

The alternative is the gutting or abolition of the Act, and a withdrawl from the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Conservatives are threatening to do (David Cameron even had a populist pop at the idea of human rights in a conference speech before he became Prime Minister).

When a politician speaks out in defence of human rights, the public need to show their approval of such statements and publicise them widely.

Who knows, if the politicians see that such positions are a vote winner, we may find that Nick Clegg is inspired to fight a little harder for rights and liberties in this parliament… and that Secretary of State Sadiq Khan is emboldened to defend and extend human rights in the next.

The Lib Dems are planning to stop Labour from power in 2015, but is Miliband watching?

by Sunny Hundal     September 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm

The political press famously paid little attention to Liberal Democrat conferences before the Coalition in 2010. Even now, as Westminster is watching more closely, there is a lingering feeling in the air that says, ‘what’s the point? You’re heading for a meltdown anyway‘.

But this would be missing the point, and the Labour leadership in particular should be paying close attention because the Lib Dem strategy is clever and could deny Ed Miliband a chance at power after the next General Election.

Let’s look at this week’s events. It started with Tim Farron love-bombing Ed Miliband. Then we had advance newspaper briefings about raising the minimum wage, banning plastic bags and dealing with climate change. Major speeches at the conference by Ed Davey, Vince Cable, Jeremy Browne and even Danny Alexander veered to the left, focusing on raising taxes on the wealthy, helping the poor and dealing with climate change. Nick Clegg’s key announcement has been on free school meals. There are even motions on betting shops!

There’s a reason for this. Voters who opted for the Lib Dems in 2010 but are now veering towards Labour are central to Ed Miliband’s success in 2015. These people are disillusioned with the Lib Dems, highly unlikely to vote Conservative and favourable to Labour. They are the reason Labour is polling in the high 30s rather than low 30s and should be easier to keep on side than people who haven’t voted for the party recently.

But if the Lib Dem conference has one central message, it’s that the yellows aren’t about to give them up without a fight.

Of course, in many cases Lib Dems are arguing against policies they voted for earlier.

But voters are notoriously fickle who remember headlines more than voting records. They mostly just remember big betrayals (like the tripling of tuition fees), and given enough time will forgive those too (as many have done with Labour and Iraq).

The Lib Dems have three main arguments to ensure they don’t collapse in 2015.

First, ‘we had no choice in 2010′. The Lib Dems pledged to join the largest party in 2010 to stabilise the British economy. They were a minority partner so they didn’t get everything but they managed to push some key Libdem policies.

Second, ‘Ed Miliband’s Labour is the same as Gordon Brown’s Labour’. They’ll point out closer to the election that Labour have said little on civil liberties, the environment or taxes on low earners. At least the Lib Dems fought in government to make that happen, they will add.

Third, ‘we restrain the extreme ends of both Labour and the Tories’. They will say that voting Lib Dem is not longer a protest vote but a vote to ensure that neither Labour nor Tories realise their wild excesses in government.

These three arguments will almost certainly soften up the Labour vote even further and start tempting back ex-Lib Dems. As Fabian research has shown, Labour voters are “much more vulnerable to apathy and disenchantment” and desert the party before an election. Labour’s jump in support after 2010 showed how bad the party is at hanging on to sympathetic voters.

It doesn’t matter what their voting record is, from here until 2015 the Lib Dems will make loud left-leaning noises to appeal their abandoned base, hoping enough of them will return after reassurances.

The mistake for Labour would be to treat ex-Lib Dem voters like tribal Labour voters. These people may be sympathetic but they are also suspicious of Labour leaders and unlikely to just take them on their word. They won’t nod along at any criticism of Clegg by Labour MPs.

Labour has to fight for them and appeal to these voters too, rather than just hoping Britons will see through it. They won’t. Enough of them could go back the Lib Dems at the last minute and deny Ed Miliband any chance of power in 2015.

UPDATE: As I said, the Lib Dems are aggressively courting Labour voters…

The Tories have a bigger problem than just UKIP

by Leo Barasi     September 16, 2013 at 9:00 am

Lord Ashcroft’s mega poll of key marginals, released yesterday, has been interpreted as showing three things:

1) Labour are doing very well against the Tories in the Tory-Labour battlegrounds

2) The Lib Dems are doing less well but still ok against the Tories in the Tory-LD battlegrounds

3) The Tories’ problems are a result of their voters defecting to UKIP

I agree with the first two interpretations, but the third looks to me to be a misreading of the data. Its extensive coverage in papers that would prefer Cameron to be more UKIP-like – the Telegraph, Mail & Express – suggests wishful thinking.

I’m going to focus on the poll of Tory-Labour marginals because that’s got more constituencies (32 vs 8) and a much bigger sample size – and it’s the one the coverage has focused on.

This is a poll of constituencies the Tories hold, so at the last election, Labour were slightly behind in all of them. Yet now the headline voting intent figure has Labour 13pts ahead*:

But UKIP’s vote is 14% and Labour’s lead is only 13pts, so that means UKIP are the reason Labour are leading in the constituencies, right?

No.

Not even two in five of that 14% who would vote UKIP in the next election voted Tory in 2010:

If UKIP were to disappear after the EU elections and the Tories were to be reunited with their lost voters, they would gain just 5.3pts – not nearly enough to overhaul Labour’s lead. And of course if UKIP were to disappear, some of those Labour defectors could return, potentially adding 2pts to Labour’s score. Put those together and the UKIP damage to the Tories is just over 3pts: less than a quarter of Labour’s lead.

This isn’t to say Labour’s lead in these constituencies is secure. Out of the main parties it has kept the highest proportion of its 2010 voters, and of course it’s had a sizeable chunk of people who abandoned the Lib Dems after the coalition was agreed. But it also has the largest number of people who didn’t vote in 2010**:

These people have already said in the poll that they’re going to vote at the next election, but the high proportion of people who didn’t vote in 2010 is a risk if they regularly don’t turn up at elections (though some are probably first-time voters). And of course there are other reasons the Labour vote may fall.

But the idea that UKIP is the reason the Tories are behind in these key marginals is just not true – or at best it’s a quarter of the truth.

—-
* There’s a separate voting intent question that encourages respondents to think about their particular constituency. This might be a better guide of how people will actually vote when push comes to shove, but I’m not using it here because I’d rather stick with something that’s comparable with other polls. Anyway, UKIP’s vote is smaller there and Labour’s lead is larger.

** The tables don’t show exactly what proportion of those “Other/Didn’t vote” were non-voters in 2010 (they need to be weighted by turnout), but the raw numbers suggest they’re overwhelmingly non-voters and that more than half of those who didn’t vote in 2010 but would now, would now vote Labour.

A New Rural Manifesto for Labour: we call for your support

by Guest     September 10, 2013 at 9:01 am

by Jack Eddy

It is uncontroversial to say that Labour lacks rural appeal. Labour’s voice in the British countryside has been inadequate for decades, but has hit a low-ebb in recent years. Even in the suburban and rural areas where Labour was able to gain some traction from 1997 onwards, the last General Election saw a massive swing to the Tories.

And yet, the Labour Party in the past has successfully gone out to the British countryside to court the rural vote and build the foundations of support. Such accomplishments can come again, but we need renewed endeavour and new direction. If this does not change – and we do not instigate that change – some rural communities may not survive these difficult times.

This is why we at South Norfolk CLP call upon all rural CLPs, as well as other interested affiliates, to support us in our call for a new Rural Manifesto – as specified in the proposal officially endorsed by South Norfolk CLP; a Rural Manifesto made in rural Britain, for rural Britain.

Priority should be given to framing policy to reflect the impact on rural communities, on a number of different issues:

Public transport and other infrastructure improvements, as well as rural unemployment and businesses will be an important subject. In the entirety of Norfolk, the 3rd largest county, there is only one late evening bus service. This is not uncommon for rural areas, with negative consequences to regional economies and rural life in general.

Additional aid to the young and unemployed for the purpose of making them as geographically mobile as possible will be hugely helpful to finding employment. A possible solution could be found in providing travel cards to rural unemployed (allowing travel for free or at a reduced rate), who live at least 2 miles from the nearest major centre of employment – valid for use 1 month after finding permanent work.

The NHS is important to us all, but many rural communities are seeing their NHS services disappear as cuts and privatisation begin to take hold, and they are fighting to stop it. One solution to help meet increasing demand, and go some way to solving the unique issues around isolation from services in rural areas, could be to focus on increasing the number of smaller, satellite hospitals that are strategically located around existing central hubs in rural locations. ‘Satellite Hospitals’ would focus on anticipatory care, diagnostic services, as well as urgent accident and emergency admissions, leaving the central hospitals to focus on the more complex and specialised treatments. By dividing up local populations into different catchment areas, it would enhance the experience of patients by offering a smaller, community feel, as well as provide more jobs.

Naturally, properly dealing with Europe and immigration in rural policy is a must. We must explain how businesses, services and local economies in rural Britain depend on Europe and immigration. Many rural businesses rely on European immigrants and the EU enables farmers and horticultural businesses to trade easily with the mainland (in either goods, equipment or expertise). Many rural businesses could not survive without immigration or the EU in general. Labour needs to illustrate how jobs held by British workers would cease to exist if Britain exited the EU.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what needs to be covered in a Rural Manifesto – and it is up to us all to decide what must be covered.

To do this, we need you to get our Motion passed in your CLP and submitted for the upcoming Labour Party Conference by 12 noon on Thursday 12th September. We also invite you to contact all whom you feel will be interested, so that we can reach everybody that can help us succeed in this enterprise.


If you are interested and have the time, please contact me at jack.eddy@btinternet.com and I will send you the proposal for the Rural Manifesto and South Norfolk’s Motion to the Conference.

The government has partially retreated on the #gaggingbill

by Nigel Stanley     September 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

In the news cycle, late Friday afternoon is reserved for embarrassing admissions, U-turns and other things you want to say as quietly as possible.

That explains the timing of the government’s announcement that they are making significant amendments to what has become known as the gagging bill. To quote from the Cabinet office press release:

‘After discussions with the NCVO and others, and in order to make the point as clear as possible whilst maintaining the reforms to electoral law, we now propose to revert to the situation as set out under existing legislation, which defines controlled expenditure as expenditure “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”.’

Of course careful examination of small print will be necessary and this is a quick initial response, but it looks like a significant retreat. No-one has ever said that activities such as the TUC Congress or a TUC demonstration need to be regulated under current law that uses this existing definition. The worry with the Bill’s original wording was that it no longer tested just the intent, but had a vaguer definition which included subjective judgements about an activity’s effect.

But this change does not make the Bill acceptable. Part 3 still wraps unions up in unnecessary red tape, breaches the privacy of trade unionists and may impact industrial action ballots – already about as legally regulated as it is possible to get.

Part 1 that supposedly regulates lobbyists does no such thing. Its only purpose in life seems to be to tick a box in the coalition agreement.

And Part 2 still limits what the majority of people would see as legitimate campaigning by non-party groups, even if they are not things the TUC does as we would need a political fund so to do.

There were always three objections to Part 2. The first – the vague and broad definition of what counts as “for electoral purposes” – appears to have gone. But that leaves sharply reduced limits (up to 70 per cent) on what third parties can spend both nationally and in constituencies. And in toxic combination with that, more activities will have to be costed and put towards that cap. At present obvious election campaigning such as leaflets and adverts count against the cap, the Bill will include many more activities, policy work, rallies, transport and even media work. Staff time involved in these much less easy to define tasks will have to be fully costed too, as this counts against the cap, even though political parties do not have to count the cost of their staff time against their much bigger cap.

Most people see limits on big money in elections as a sensible way of stopping them being bought. But the government has made no case for the new limits and definitions, and they will have a big impact on broad and popular campaigns with a clear electoral focus such as work to reduce support for extremists and possibly local campaigns such as those for or against infrastructure investments. Yet the Cabinet Office are clear that the new caps will stay:

It is important to reiterate that the Bill will still bring down the national spending limit for third parties, introduce constituency spending limits and extend the definition of controlled expenditure to cover more than just election material, to include rallies, transport and press conferences.

My reading of the Bill has always been that it was meant to smuggle in a surgical strike at trade unions and campaigns that the coalition parties fear under cover of pretend lobbying rules. But it was so badly drafted it brought together a huge civil society alliance. Today’s climbdown restores the Bill to its original intention, and it should still be withdrawn.

As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says today:

“The poor drafting, muddled justification and expert condemnation that brought together perhaps the biggest ever coalition in public life made this retreat inevitable.

“But the problems with this Bill have not gone away as it still limits campaigns against extremist parties, breaches the privacy of trade union members and fails to open up lobbying. If ministers think that opposition will now melt away, they have another think coming.”

GMB Union’s move today shows that unions feel sidelined by Labour

by Sunny Hundal     September 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm

The GMB Union’s unexpected decision today to lower their affiliation fees from £1.2m a year to £150,000 is a warning shot that doesn’t bode well for the Labour party.

The GMB added this ominous statement to their press release: “It is expected that there will further reductions in spending on Labour party campaigns and initiatives.”

Much more will come out this weekend as the annual TUC conference kicks off in Bournemouth, but it’s telling that no one from any of the major unions was willing to make a statement on BBC World at One today. Only Ronnie Barker from the Bakers Union came on to say that he wouldn’t be surprised if other unions follow suit.

There’s a tendency for many within Labour to see their relations with Trade Unions as a battle of wills rather than an equal relationship. So many will interpret this as a ‘warning shot’ from GMB that requires a ‘robust response to show we’re not weak’ etc. But I think they forget that there are far more Britons who see their union as more relevant to their lives than the Labour party.

As George Eaton points out, the GMB has decided to slash its funding in advance, rather than seek to recruit members to the party. And they’re not even bothered about picking a public fight over this.

This is bad for the Labour not just because it deprives of the money, but because it indicates relations are so bad the unions are largely unwilling to work with Labour to make it a mass-membership party. They’re essentially saying: ‘if you’re going to treat us like this, then don’t expect us to help you‘.

If that attitude among unions hardens and becomes entrenched, especially if the Labour leadership decide to take it as a personal attack, then expect more unions to follow and eventually look at disaffiliation.

Tom Watson can see where this is headed too, hence his blogpost this morning.

I emailed a well-connected union worker today, who had this to say:

From the perspective of many grassroots Labour activists neither the leader’s stance or the GMB’s response look great since it will make the party’s job of defeating the government that bit harder. We need to be united and campaigning hard in the run-up to the electon to defeat the Coalition. But the reality is the leader’s office appear to have failed to consider the full and severe financial implications of their plans before Ed made his speech. The unions have literally kept the Labour Party out of bankruptcy these last few years and are owed respect. While in an ideal world there would be a much more diverse set of donations, we are simply not there yet and the election clock is ticking.

The question now is what will other unions do. I’d be astonished if CWU and Unite weren’t considering something similar. It’s a nightmare that is keeping a lot of people awake at night right now.

Ed Miliband needs to do two things: to reassure the unions and make them feel this is a partnership not an antagonistic marriage headed for divorce. He also needs to push forward with bold changes so the party engages and empowers its members, and more are persuaded to join and take part.

If, on the other hand, they decide that the logical response is to replace union funding with donations from rich people, say goodbye to the Trade union link and say hello to the slow demise of the Labour party.