Posts Tagged ‘party funding’

Unite enters the post-Charlie Whelan age (and what’s next)

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Readers of this blog have got in touch and this week prompted me to return to a well worn subject. This week Unite’s political department enters its first week post-Charlie Whelan since Gordon Brown’s redoubtable ex-spinner joined the union as political director in 2007. It’s likely to remain that way until at least 1 December, when the result of the Unite general secretary election is announced.

“Holding the fort”, as he has described it to those around him, is political adviser John O’Regan. Since he was Whelan’s deputy in the department, and since they both speak with distinctive Cockney vocals, there’ll be continuity for now. O’Regan came up through the GPMU print union which merged into Amicus which in turn merged into Unite. So he’ll be used to managing change, and staying on the right side of new bosses – essential in a union with such complex and sometimes fraught politics.

Who is to be the new political director? It’s been reported (including here) that Joe Irvin, Gordon Brown’s former political secretary at No 10, was likely. Actually, I blogged that he had been chosen, following a Tribune story. This was swiftly denied by Unite.

Truth be told, I was a bit hasty. It’s true that no formal decision has been made. What’s also true, and interesting is that – after the subject came up at Unite’s executive committee three weeks ago – the consensus seems to have shifted towards appointing the new director after the new gen sec is announced.

Which of course makes sense. You wouldn’t want to be appointed and then find, weeks later, that you had a new boss who didn’t have full confidence in you. A view shared within the Unite political department, I’m told.

Both Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint leaders, have been backing Irvin for the job. But some at Unite are unhappy at his record working for Gordon Brown. In his time at No 10, Irvin reportedly helped to block the implementation of the agency workers’ directive, resisted the introduction of one-member-one-vote for the National Policy Forum (a policy supported by almost all Labour’s unions, as I reported here) and, most emotively of all, supported the Hayden Philips review of party funding, which would have capped union donations to Labour and put the party-union link under severe strain.

A new candidate has arisen in the form of form of Byron Taylor, the thirtysomething national officer of the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation. Having been lead officer in negotiations with Labour over policy issues, Taylor enjoys the advantage of having been on the unions’ side of the argument. He’s also a Unite member and former industrial organiser, with widespread respect in the union movement. My understanding is Taylor has been approached.


Jack Straw’s future and its implications for unions

Friday 30 July 2010

Shadow Justice Secretary (and shadow deputy prime minister, which is why he has a go at Nick Clegg at the despatch box sometimes) Jack Straw will not stand for the Shadow Cabinet this autumn, and will pursue other interests instead, I heard this week. When I asked a friend if he had any jobs lined up, he replied: “Yeah – on the backbenches.” So that’s pretty clear I guess.

This has implications. Jack Straw was one of the obstacles to a cross-party agreement on reform of the funding of political parties, when Labour was in power. The sticking point was donations from trade unions; Straw’s white paper on party funding protected it, and he didn’t budge on it in talks. The Tories wanted the total donation given by a union to be treated as a single donation and capped; Labour wanted it treated as lots of individual donations from union members who were political levy payers. Unions comfortably form the single biggest source of donations to Labour; without them, the party would go broke quite fast. Now Labour is in a minority, that funding model is going to be challenged. Within a year, we could see union donations capped almost out of existence.

Question is – will his successor as shadow justice secretary act the same way when the coalition government comes asking for talks on the very same subject?

Who could be the next in line? A quick scan of Labour MPs with a profile and a background in the law suggests David Lammy, Emily Thornberry, Harriet Harman – could they be relied on to fight to preserve the union link in its current form? (Harman probably yes, seeing as her husband was deputy general secretary of Unite till recently).

Whoever is party leader by then will of course have the final say. All the candidates have said the Labour-union link must be preserved – but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be amended. And of course Labour alone cannot stop a new party funding bill from becoming law. Hence the shadow justice secertary’s crucial role, as constitutional affairs spokesperson, in deciding how much ground to cede.

Both Labour and the unions would lose if union donations were capped; if (as previously suggested) the cap were, say, £50,000 in a year, that would cut the value of the unions’ donations by hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds. The unions would lose influence; Labour would face bankruptcy.

Thought for the Day

Tuesday 4 August 2009

“It says in the Bible that the poor you will always have with you, and political parties will always struggle to raise money.” – Ministry of Justice source, commenting on the new Political Parties and Elections Act

And if you can’t even take money from rich tax exiles (well, not after next summer), it’ll get even worse for all three major parties…

Party funding update: Prentice’s fight continues

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Further to my post below last night, MP Gordon Prentice has written to tell me that his amendments calling for tax exiles to be banned from making donations to political parties, which were dead after Monday night’s debate, are now alive again. Labour peer Lord Campbell-Savours has promised to table the amendments when the bill gets debated in the Lords on 18 March.

The Ministry of Justice is still dead against his amendments.

But there is anger on the backbenches that Prentice’s measure was so easily tossed aside. Labour MP Colin Challen has tabled this Early Day Motion:


Challen, Colin 
That this House leaves itself open to ridicule when it cannot find time to debate an amendment supported by 216 hon. Members, designed to stop tax exiles donating to British political parties, but can find time to vote on keeping the home addresses of parliamentary candidates secret.

Read more in Tribune this Friday…

Party funding: the backbench rebellion that never was

Tuesday 3 March 2009

People have been talking about the 130-plus Labour MPs who’ve signed a motion opposing the part-privatisation of Royal Mail as a great rebellion.  But the Government narrowly avoided just as big a rebellion in the Commons last night – which nobody in The Media noticed.

139 Labour MPs, plus 68 opposition MPs,  had backed an amendment tabled by Labour MP Gordon Prentice to Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s political parties and elections bill (as reported by David Hencke in The Guardian here). When this bill was first announced, Labour backbenchers hoped it would do something about the so-called “Ashcroft millions” channeled into target seats by Tory donor Lord (Michael) Ashcroft. But  there’s nothing in the bill that deals with tax exiles of UK nationality who fund parties. Nor is there much to stop large amounts of cash being funnelled into a constituency after the bill got watered down. Ashcroft may or may not be a tax exile (he won’t say). Lord Laidlaw (who says he won’t fund the Tories any more) certainly is. Prentice’s amendment was meant to fix that by banning ‘non-doms’ from making donations.

What happened? As often mysteriously happens with amendments the Government doesn’t like, MPs ran out of time. Prentice doesn’t think it’s mysterious, though. “We had a nice filibuster from Jack Straw, who spoke for 20 minutes about the Hayden Philips review [of party funding],” he said to me today.

The would-be rebels included Peter Hain, Denis MacShane and Parliamentary Labour Party chair Tony Lloyd – none exactly serial rebels. In fact, it was Lloyd’s own PLP secretariat who sent out a brefing note to Labour MPs telling them they should vote against. Vince Cable and most Lib Dems were on board, but no Tories.

The Government thinks Prentice’s amendments were unworkable. He disagrees, but he also asks why the Government hasn’t tried to tackle the problem itself. Meanwhile, the non-doms can rest easy.

Suggestions that this had anything to do with Prentice telling David Hencke (above) that Jack Straw’s behaviour was “surreal” are clearly wide of the mark.

P.S. Wealthy donors are not limited to the Tories. Lakshmi Mittal is perhaps the most famous (or infamous) Labour donor – and non-dom.