The trade union subscription to the Labour Party for an individual member is around three pounds a year, which it is possible to opt out of and which is less than half the cost of a book of First Class stamps. Conservative MPs often make the charge that the Labour Party is “bankrolled” by the unions. “More than half of Labour MPs have had their campaigns bankrolled (that word again) by the trade union threatening to disrupt the lives of millions and bring our economy to its knees,” was how Baroness Warsi scornfully phrased it in an interview with the Daily Mail during the recent fuel strike that never was.
And what of the response of Tory HQ to businessman Peter Cruddas’s
claim that giving money to the Tories could prove “awesome for your
business” (committing the crime of attempting to sound hip if nothing
else). “Unlike the Labour Party, where union donations are traded for
party policies, donations to the Conservative Party do not buy party or
No equivocation there then.
But there is an element of truth to Tory claims. Swap the word union
with the phrase “working people who voluntarily donate to a union fund
that goes to the Labour Party” and you are getting closer to the truth.
The Labour party is indeed bankrolled (if you’re the sort of person who
insists on calling it that) by the trade union movement; but this
movement (an appropriate word if ever there was one) consists of
millions of working people who it is the Labour Party’s raison d’etre to
Perhaps trade unionists have more in common with a greater number of
the electorate than, say, those who grace the pages of the Sunday Times
Rich List. For when nearly a quarter of the top 1,000 richest people in
the country have given money to the Conservative Party, which they most
certainly have if this year’s directory is to be believed, those
claiming the problem is union funding of the Labour Party really ought
to quieten down.
248 of the top 1,000 individuals featured on this year’s Rich List
have financially supported the Conservative Party since 2001, with
donations totalling £83.6m. The Swedish Hans Rausing food packaging
dynasty were the highest placed donors on the List in 12th place, with
gifts to the Tories totalling £886,000. They were followed by Sir
Anthony Bamford and Family, who donated £4.7m to the Tories and who were
20th on the Rich List; the Fleming family, who donated £1.3 million and
came in at number 42; and Lord Ashcroft, whose donations to the party
totalled £6.1m and who was 62nd on the List. In fifth place was our good
friend Peter Cruddas, who donated £1.1m to the Conservatives but who
lumbered in at a proletarian 101 on the List.
So what might these individuals of contrasting fortunes be getting for their dosh?
A trade unionist might hope for at least something in return from
their modest contribution to the Labour Party. A decent minimum wage for
those at the bottom of the pay scale, perhaps. Or maybe a guarantee
that they won’t be thrown out of work because a superior has taken a
dislike to their skin colour or sexuality. He or she might trade in
their three pounds in the faint, perhaps misguided hope that there will
be a political party which grudgingly carries his or her hopes and
dreams somewhere in its DNA. For the price of a packet of stamps, it
does seem worth a try.
But what could possibly motivate Britain’s most privileged
individuals to donate such large sums to the Tory Party? What might they
expect in return for their generosity?
“It is clear the wealthy look to the Tory Party to protect their
interests and they have been repaid with policies like the change in
Income Tax, down from 50p to 45p,” said General Secretary of the GMB
union Paul Kenny.
“This is not philanthropy. It’s an investment by an elite in an elite to look after their interests.”
If the Tories are to be believed, union donations are traded for
Labour policies at three quid a head. Were that true, it would mean
policies for the benefit of quite a few heads – there are around seven
million trade unionists, after all, which is considerably more than
there are candidates for the Sunday Times Rich List. Which leaves one
wondering: if three pounds gets you a slight nod from the Labour
leadership at conference now and then, what must the sort of sums
mentioned above get you from the Government? Quite a lot, I would
imagine, but for a much, much smaller proportion of the population than
carry trade union membership cards.
Originally posted @The Independent.
(Image: The Independent)