The Tories read Tribune – but do they speak union?

Tribune’s circulation is not massive, so I’m always cheered when I come across a new reader, especially if they read my stories. And my god, someone at Conservative Central Office has been reading them carefully.

On Monday, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled a report, Old Labour is back, detailing how, as the Conservatives argue, the Labour Party is under the thumb of, and financially dependent on, trade unions.

There’s no dispute about the second point: according to the Electoral Commission, unions provided Labour with 93% of its funding in the first quarter of this year. But are they really controlling the agenda? Trouble with this report is that, although it was released on the day after Labour’s National Policy Forum wrapped up, it was inevitably compiled beforehand. Many of the union policy demands mentioned in the report – in fact, all the controversial ones like secondary picketing and higher rates of National Insurance for the richer – were refused.

And where did they get the facts from?

“Tribune also reported that unions were calling for workers in other factories should be able to strike if a company closed one factory and other closures were proposed… Tribune reported that the unions were demanding new rules to protect the jobs of workers whose companies are bought out by private equity firms… Tribune reported that the unions were demanding an extension of the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority into the construction industry…”

In fact all their Tribune quotes (and they are word for word) are lifted from my 13 June story on Warwick II (see below). Maybe they only read one issue? I doubt it: a little birdie tells me that no less a person than Oliver Letwin has picked up a copy in CCHQ.

I should point out at this point that I don’t trawl the Internet regularly looking to se if my stories have been picked up. I came across this after reading a story somewhere (I forget where) about Tories attacking Labour for being in hock to the unions.

Anyway, if you’re waiting for me to get to the point, relax: I’m just about to. In this same report, the Tories complain about unions getting taxpayers’ money. And indeed they do: last year the Unionlearn fund, which encourages workers to take advantage of learning opportunites at work, was funded by the government to the tune of £18.4 million. There’s also a union modernisation fund, which since its third round last year has started doling out £3 million to various projects which won grants.

Neither of these funds are secrets. People from the TUC are happy to talk about them. And they have benefited unions other than just those who fund the Labour Party, although the report doesn’t make this clear.

Question is: what will the Tories do if/when they get into power? Just abolish these funds as an unpleasant vestige of a time when the governing party channeled taxpayers’ money into unions so it could get it back in affiliation fees? David Cameron likes to talk about harnessing the private and voluntary sectors to help deliver public services and social gain. Why not unions too?

Since March this year, the Tories have had a part-time envoy to the trade union movement, former Labour MEP Richard Balfe. And according to one union boss, he’s already doing the rounds of unions and planning for after the election…

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