Blair’s legacy: a break with the unions?

If reports in the Guardian (twice), Times and Telegraph are right, Blair’s Christmas present to the Labour party is set to be a proposed break with the trade unions.  Hayden Phillips – the man asked to looked into funding issues surrounding big businessmen buying peerages – seems to have gone off on one and come up with radical proposals on all aspects of party funding. 

Reports have dribbling out of Westminster like undercooked fat out of a turkey’s backside this week, but piecing everything together, Hayden Phillips looks set to propose:

* Capping trade union and corporate donations, lumping collective organisations of millions, with democratic structures and accountability, in the same boat as the spivs and fat cats in the city.

* Ending collective affiliation of trade union members to the Labour party, replacing it with individualised membership for levy payers, direct with the party – not through the union.

* Forcing unions (or the party itself) to check in with members every single yearif they want to continue their new indivdualised membership of the party.  (Unions currently have to consult members in a ballot on continuing collective membership every ten years.)

* BUT – cleverly, Phillips will allow individual members of unions to give “up to £50,000”, just like rich businessmen.  Which is, we’re sure, a huge relief to dinner ladies in UNISON and bus drivers in the T&G.

The proposals have the “sympathy” of the Prime Minister and according to the Guardian, “Mr Blair and Mr Cameron discussed the inquiry during a private meeting last month”.  Labour MPs are apparently up in arms and – the Telegraph tells us – held a meeting on Monday night to discuss the issue.

If MPs are “ballistic” about these proposals, they might want to do something about it.  Someone in the government or in the unions is telling the Guardian, the Times and the Telegraph what is going on — but from where party members are sitting, it looks like all MPs have done so far is having a bit of a meeting.  MP Kevan Jones, in the Telegraph, stuck his head above the parapet, calling TU donations “the most democratic and transparent money of all”.  However, Nick Palmer busy commenting on, tells us that the rumours are so bad that they can’t be true. 

That’s not good enough.

Labour people don’t agree on every issue, but there is real consensus across the whole party on the importance of the party-union link.  The bottom line is that if we end the union link – which these proposals would do – then the party is over.  

Since 2003, reports have suggested Blair has been worried that his legacy will the disasterous mess which is Iraq.  But Blair now has a cunning plan to erase that from memory – instead, he is going to leave us a disastrous mess of a Labour Party in meltdown.


10 Responses to Blair’s legacy: a break with the unions?

  1. Thomas says:

    Stephen Byers was right after all – does everyone remember when he floated breaking the link back in 95 (or 96?). He got slapped down, but maybe he was just ahead of time.

  2. Chris Baldwin says:

    We can’t take this lying down, Blair really will destroy the Labour Party if he does this. Quite frankly MPs and the cabinet will have to stand up to the PM on this one and say ‘no’.

  3. Max says:

    Not to mention the damage that it does to the cause by even floating this idea – we cannot give legitimacy to the Tory case against the link and we must be seen as a unified party defending a system that must be seen as reasonable.

  4. HenryG says:

    Just noticed that Jon Cruddas MP has justed posted about Hayden Phillips review of party funding. Short but sweet.

  5. The Labour Party alienates its voters more and more each day – if the union link is broken the last finger in the dyke is removed and the tidal wave of opposition will really pour down on our heads. As someone working full time for a Unison Branch I see every day the frustration which our members feel as they constantly endure their government abandoning public service in favour of the private market. I doubt that anyone is more critical of the Labour Government than me but I am genuinely frightened that natural labour supporters are on the verge of being forced into making the same mistake many of us made in the late seventies which was to spend too much time fighting ourselves and not enough time fighting the tories. The Tories are once agian painting themselves as a gentle, caring and safe pair of hands – the last time we fell for that con trick lead to 18 years of thatcherite devastation – lets not make the same mistake twice -eh?

  6. the horror the horror says:

    Mmmm – I think all the caps will just be circumvented just like in the US. The more significant things are the wodge of public dosh and the option for union members to go direct-to-labour. Adrian McMenamin types must be lovin’ that shit.

    Ironically, the tories (says my old lecturer) thought about exactly the same sort of rules in the v v early eighties but held off ‘cos they thought that would allow the SDP to pull well clear of Lab (they were ahead at the time and seen as a bigger threat).

  7. I might be more sympathetic to these proposals if I thought they might actually do anything to reduce the influence of powerful, unaccountable interests of the political process.

    In fact, they’ll do the opposite as, rather than funding political causes through the partially accountable, if imperfect, realm of funding of political parties, interests groups will instead be concentrate on poster campaigns, newspapers ads, websites etc which are accountable to no one.

    This is a blueprint for a more corrupt, less democratic, American-style system.

  8. Gregg says:

    If MPs are “ballistic” about these proposals, they might want to do something about it.

    What can they do? If the reports are accurate, and the government accepts the proposals and puts a Bill before Parliament in the New Year, there’s nothing backbenchers can do to stop it. The only hopes are that it can be stopped in Cabinet, or delayed by Labour peers in the Lords.

  9. “there’s nothing backbenchers can do to stop it”

    They could vote against it, although I suppose the Tories will be in favour.

  10. Ian G says:

    What is Brown’s position on all of this? Surely he won’t want to inherit a ruined party, and I can’t see it going through cabinet without his support.

    The problem is, as Max says, that Blair’s support (should this be true) means we’ll have a very hard time winning over public opinion.

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