Tuesday, March 16, 2010

UNITE's Support Should Count As Labour Election Expenses

A Lanson Boy (aka Alex Folkes) is one of the more interesting LibDem bloggers. Today he demonstrates why, with a very aposite letter to the Electoral Commission. I wonder how they will respond.

To: Jenny Watson
Chair, The Electoral Commission

Dear Jenny

Electoral Law allows for organisations which are not political parties to campaign during general elections in order to influence voters into supporting or opposing various policies. In effect, these so-called 'third parties' are often barely concealed campaigns for a particular party and the original intention of allowing such campaigns, though admirable, has been lost as they become merely an attack dog for one party or another.

I am particularly concerned about the influence that the trade union Unite will have at the forthcoming election. Whether one supports or opposes their political viewpoint, they clearly have the right to campaign on behalf of their members. However, as an organisation which is so inextricably intertwined with the Labour Party, having donated more than £11 million to the party in the past 3 years, organising phone banks for the party and with a large number of 'sponsored' Labour MPs, I believe that it would be misleading for voters at the forthcoming general election for Unite's 'third party' spending to be treated separately from that of the Labour Party itself.

I would therefore call on the Electoral Commission to require that any spending by Unite at this general election to be treated as spending by the Labour Party for the purposes of election law and accounting purposes. Where another 'third party' campaign organisation is also shown to be a front for a registered party I believe that the same should apply.

Transparency in election law is important for electors and I believe that treating Unite's spending in the way that I have suggested would be a significant step in the right direction.



Alex Folkes
Liberal Democrat Councillor for Launceston Central


Unknown said...

Nice idea, but I can't see it happening. Be honest, can you?

Bill Quango MP said...

Do you think Labour are beginning to wish they hadn't made all that fuss about Ashcroft.

Penfold said...

Laudable, idealistic.

It doesn't stand a snowballs' chance.

What abou this mob, that was interviewed on BBC Radio 2, that want to give away votes to aliens living abroad, on the spurious count that our decisions may affect others living in poverty overseas. Isn't it illegal to sell or otherwise allow a vote to be used by an unauthorised party. Isn't a vote non-tranferable?

So begs the question, what will be done about that.
Also, what to be done about certain ethnic groups who effectively sell family votes. Patriarchs dealing in postal votes which allows them to control the family vote and to deal for influence.. Illegal?

So what's to be done on these 2 issues.

Anonymous said...

What I'd like to know is, why Unite have received 12 million in modernisation grants, from the Govt, when they obviously have plenty of money of their own - i.e. the 11 million that they gave to the labour party.

Colin said...

I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were him.

Chris said...

This whole thing is so pathetic! The Tories trying to get their own back on Labour because they feel bruised by the Ashcroft scandal.

2 Points...
Firstly, the union arrangements are completely open - so nothing sleazy or underhand exists, so hard luck.
Secondly, the LABOUR party was founded in the name of the unions. It is the party of the unions. (although maybe less so now) How is this so hard to understand?!

I guess the Tories could have argued that their party is the party of wealthy businessman - but chose to give that one a miss!

DespairingLiberal said...

Where would this leave all those nice donations from Lord A£hcroft? Isn't he so close to the Tory Party that they too should count as party expenditure? Surely?

However, there is a world of difference between a membership body with democratic procedures donating money to something and one individual purchasing many MPs, activists and party policies with humongous amounts of cash. At least in Unite, members could protest, raise petitions, lobby the executive, raise it at Conference, etc. To challenge the super-wealthy individual donors is a tad more difficult!

My word verification was cashopen!

Iain Dale said...

You fool. Those donations do count towards election expenditure. Think before you write.

Anonymous said...

@ titus

Erm, because political donations are amassed from an opt-in on each individual member's application and are at all times separate from money for the other activities unions carry out.

If the Tories think painting millions of working class, tax paying union members as being as bad as one millionaire tax exile, you have to wonder if they have learnt anything from the last 13 years.

Jason Myers said...

This whole thing is so pathetic! The Tories trying to get their own back on Labour because they feel bruised by the Ashcroft scandal.

The letter was sent by a Lib Dem not the Tories.

Anyway, it's politics - everything's fair game. Funding is important. Yes the Tories have messed up with Ashcroft but Labour are not whiter than white. Let's have a grown up debate.

Chris said...

"If the Tories think painting millions of working class, tax paying union members as being as bad as one millionaire tax exile, you have to wonder if they have learnt anything from the last 13 years."

Exactly. Brilliantly put...

DespairingLiberal said...

Iain, what the heck are you talking about? All those lavish pre-election donations by Lord Cash counting as official election expenses? What? Who exactly are you taking to be the idiot?


I am sure most of the readers and posters will only turn a blind eye to certain things. For years the unite unioin has been funding UAF and other anti BNP groups. But people (including yourself Iain) have said this is legitimate.

Why is it not legitimate now? Simply because they have been allowed to expand the resources to attack the Tories and Lib Dems.

It would be interesting to see the response, especially in relation to funding towards anti BNP groups.

mark patrick norris said...

Zimbabwe Policy
King’s Conservative MI6 ( Warning ) 4-5 Years on the miss money penny as we will miss stake hold that bond the king’s bishop the cloth of the snooker table we will use the black and blue eyes poket the red eyes as we will bar and handle and on a trusted seat a new chain a new spoke as wee pedal and stall on the 5th pedal kings MI6 will down dress as civil war breaks out at that point of order the signal will be sent out 2.2.2 send in the king’s world wide media MI6 return back to briton uk as refugees on the side slide on the side slide with the holy waters as we setup the kings ICC Now send in the military
Police and Tony Blair to peace keep 6 weeks later send in the big guns to bomb a emty thing here or there.

Twig said...

Well UNITE gave away so much money to the Labour Party that they didn't have enough left to modernise the Union, so instead of Labour giving the money back, the "Labour Government" awarded them a pile of taxpayers cash to plug the funding gap.

Some people might think this looks like money laundering, but the Electoral Commission seem to think that there's no connection between the two payments.

@Despairing Liberal
The Ashcroft donations will have to be accounted for under the rules, but UNITE's campaign spend will not be counted as Labour Party spending, a bit like the work done by the BBC on behalf of Labour.

Labour are just so much better at stealth than their competitors.

Prodicus said...

@Yorks Terrorist

Not true.

The earmarked *political sub* may be voluntary but union officers have discretion to use central union monies as they see fit, including giving money to the Labour Party, which they do.

Whether one likes it or not, to belong to a union is to give money to the Labour Party. By no stretch of the imagination can Unite or any other union show that their donations to Labour are voluntarily funded by all the union's members, any more than they could demonstrate the legitimacy of the old block vote.

Now, under Brown, merely to be a taxpayer is to give money to the Labour Party - via the "union modernisation fund" - whether one likes it or not.

This is unjust, undemocratic and iniquitous. Not that scruples about concepts like justice and democracy disturb Brown's sleep for a instant. He is content as long as he can raise money to pay his anti-Tory army by whatever means - and eff the taxpaying electorate.

Anonymous said...

@Chris.. Labour was founded by the union and hence unions should bankroll the party, dictate what they should do etc.., that is your argument, a pathetic justification
@Despairing Liberal: "At least in Unite, members could protest, raise petitions, lobby the executive, raise it at Conference, etc", my relative is a Unite member, a minor official and what he says should shame people like you who think that Unions and Whelan are angels! Is there no limit for you guys to support Labour? Masochism has its limits. 13 years of it are enough.

Vienna Woods said...

This modernisation grant generously given by Gordon to "Unite" is suspicious in the extreme, when most of it has found its way into the Labour Party coffers. Have they ever been asked to provide evidence as to how the money was "spent". I am outraged that this so called "Union" appears to be nothing more than a political affiliate of the Labour Party. Anyway, we should be told who approved this grant which was effectively made by the general taxpayer, many of whom are not Labour supporters.

Martin S said...

He has a good point.

And now he has gone public with it, it might be hard for them to resist it.

Martin S said...

Chris said: Firstly, the union arrangements are completely open - so nothing sleazy or underhand exists, so hard luck

But hang on! Titus-aduxas said:
What I'd like to know is, why Unite have received 12 million in modernisation grants, from the Govt, when they obviously have plenty of money of their own - i.e. the 11 million that they gave to the labour party.

The union arrangements are competently open? Are they Chris? Really? It seems as if they might not be as open as all that...

DespairingLiberal said...

It would be interesting to compare the largesse Tory donor has heaped onto target constituency Tory parties (not that we shall ever know the true scale of it) compared to Unite. I imagine the latter is quite small on a per-seat basis.

There is much more political meaning to the allegations about Labour using government money to fund unions and then pipeline it back to Labour. I feel sure this one would be stopped under a Tory/LibDem administration!

I think some of you are just plain rattled by Charlie Whelan's propaganda about Unite members calling each other, a Unite War Room, etc, etc. It's mostly tripe - at the street level, few people of any party can these days be inspired to do anything practical. The Air War is everything.

Still, he must be chuckling to himself up there in Unite HQ that he's got you all worked up into a fine old lather! The Whelan mouth has long exceeded the Whelan grasp.

Evensong said...

I have a question about Unite. Actually, it could also be applied to any other trade union, but I honestly don't know the answer so perhaps someone can provide it.

Is it possible for someone to be a member of a trade union and yet explicitly say they do not wish their subcription to be donated to any political party?

Hamish said...

When will the political parties understand the real message?
That they are obsolete.
Like telephone operators and print compositors before them.
Technology enables us all to engage in the political process.
We don't need to pay people to do it for us.

DespairingLiberal said...

Evensong - yes - you simply tell your union that you don't want to any more. It's called a "Political Fund Exemption Notice".

"I hereby give notice that I object to contributing to the Political Fund of the union and am in consequence exempt, in the manner provided by Chapter 6 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act 1992, from contributing to that fund."

In practise, some unions have passed special orders that enable them to get round this by making additional donations. You would need to get such orders overturned in a vote at a conference, or whatever mechanism the union has for debating such things.

I believe a Populus poll published last year (in the Times?) found that 49% of Unite members oppose giving money to Labour. Unfortunately for the Tories though, in a lot of cases, this was because Labour were seen as not left-wing enough and also as betraying Unite members in disputes. The BA one should be seen in that context - public statements by Brown, Adonis, etc against the union can hardly have endeared their members towards Labour.

Martin S said...

In answer to Evensong, yes, you can opt out. There was an opt out clause in the 1970s when I was a member of TASS, the technical section of the Engineering Union.

Though as the officials knew who opted out, it was tempting to remained opted-in...

Evensong said...

@ Despairing Liberal - Thanks for the info, it cleared up one of those questions that was going round my head for a while.

David Lindsay said...

Honestly, how is it news that much of Labour's money and many of its MPs come from the unions? Where did you think that they came from under Blair, who was sponsored by the T&G and therefore by Unite throughout his time at Westminster? The T&G stitched up a seat for him in the first place, to stop the Hard Left ex-Minister, and 1979 ejectee, Les Huckfield.

Ah, there's the rub. It was the unions that used to pack the PLP with working-class patriots and social conscience toffs, with temperance Methodists and traditional Catholics, whose priorities were the Welfare State, workers' rights, trade unionism, the co-operative movement, consumer protection, strong communities, conservation rather than environmentalism, fair taxation, full employment, public ownership, proper local government, a powerful Parliament, and a base of real property from which every household could resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State.

Those commitments were fully and actively compatible with, and more than compatible with, a no less absolute commitment to any or all of the monarchy, the organic Constitution, national sovereignty, civil liberties, the Union, the Commonwealth, the countryside, grammar schools, traditional moral and social values, controlled importation and immigration, and a realistic foreign policy.

Then New Labour emerged from the sectarian Leftist fringes of academia and student politics. But now the unions are re-emerging. Bringing with them MPs such as the above? We live in hope. But we cannot risk dying in despair. Forget the Labour Party and organise such candidates anyway. Then, as much as anything else, demand of the unions why they fund New Labour instead.

Oh, for pity's sake, get out of the Eighties. People do not now have fits of the vapours at the mention of a trade union. As much as anything else, a trade union is a body of people living, working and paying taxes in this country, who do not avoid the last by declaring another state to be their natural home.

When Margaret Thatcher broke the closed shop, made it possible to opt out of the political levy (as one fifth of Unite members do), and drove trade unionism out of the private sector by destroying that sector's manufacturing base, then she removed the leavening influence of millions of working-class Tories from the selection of the Labour candidates for the safe Labour seats in which they lived. Think on that.

tory boys never grow up said...

DEspairing Liberal is touching on a very interesting point as to what counts towards the national campaign expenditure limits under PPERA. The Act actually says that all expenditure undertaken by a Party's HQ or its accounting units which promote the Party or attack its rivals during the 12 month period prior to the General Eelction counts towards the National Campaign limits. Given Mr Dale's close contacts and business relationships with Lord Ashcroft perhaps he can let us know whether all the Ashcroft money being pored into marginals is counting towards the national limit - if you do the maths I certainly have my own doubts.

While he is at he might want to ask why Tory advertising spend at the last General Election was shown as being slightly less than that of Labour on the returns for the last General Election - while all the industry sources (e.g Campaign Magazine) pointed to the Tories outspending Labour by a large margin.

ukipwebmaster said...

The electoral commission should do something about this money laundering and the BBC should give it the headlines it deserves.

Oh dear...I just woke up!

Jimmy said...

"A Lanson Boy (aka Alex Folkes) is one of the more interesting LibDem bloggers. Today he demonstrates why,"

Because he's on the CCHQ mailing list?

Craig Ranapia said...


What a load of twaddle. Those "millions of working class, tax paying union members" you're so concerned about are perfectly free to join the Labour Party, and directly offer their time, money and expertise to the general election campaign.

But it seems like a no-brainer to me that ANY organisation directly financing ANY political party or their election campaign should not be considered a third party. Money laundering is no more palatable because there's historical precedent behind it.

Alex Folkes said...

Thanks, but this was all my own work

Grammarye said...

As a UNITE member, I think it's totally unacceptable that UNITE funds Labour in the slightest. I pay my dues to support employees unfairly treated by employers, not for some official to grandstand at elections, tell me how to vote, or donate my fees to a party that doesn't stand for workers' rights any more than any other party.

It seems some people have forgotten the brutal cuts in manufacturering like Alstom, or the recent Cadbury sale, all under a Labour government. They have forgotten how our basic British rights as established by the Magna Carta were traded away by the Labour government in a deal with the US, and further undermined by anti-terror laws applied to deal with political dissidents. They have either forgotten or are so out of touch that they are mindlessly supporting the same party they've always supported through ignorance.

Even if I may vote Conversative, I applaud this letter, and agree with anyone calling for ALL such support, any party, any source, to be appropriately dealt with.

Guy Herbert said...

~Why's it taken 10 years for people to notice that TUs have special status in Electoral Law, the 2000 Act having designed to fix the sytem for the Labour Party as well as against Jimmy Goldsmith and other non-party single-issue interveners? It was plain enough on the face of the original bill.

Richard Gadsden said...

I think a lot of people are missing the point.

UNITE, like many unions, has three funds - the General Fund, which has the majority of their money and can only be used for industrial purposes, and two Political Funds. Members can opt-out of either one or both Political Funds. Many members who do so opt to use the money as a charitable donation instead so they aren't accused of being cheap.

One Political Fund is a specific Labour Party fund, which is donated directly to the Labour Party. Any spending by the Labour Party - whether from this money or other money they have - comes under the election expenses guidelines, which lay down various budget limits (one for the period from 1 Jan 2010 to the close of nominations, one for the election campaign, ie close of nominations to polling day, and both of those are separated into national and local limits).

The other Political Fund is a non-partisan fund, which is registered with the electoral commission as a third-party (which is a daft name, non-political party campaigner would be better). The non-partisan fund has its own limits on spending, both nationally and locally. Note that non-electoral political spending (e.g. lobbying) comes out of the same fund and is not subject to the electoral commission limits.

This is the money that is spent to back UAF and Searchlight, but it is also being used to run separate UNITE campaigns effectively for individual constituency Labour candidates, formally separate from the Labour party fund. In effect, UNITE is using members' money from a pot that was kept separate from the Labour Party money (and including money from supporters of other parties, who wanted it to be used for lobbying and to fund anti-BNP campaigns) to run a second Labour General Election campaign on top of the official one, and using a separate expenses limit.

This is on top of the £11m they gave to Labour, so there is millions more going into this campaign.

The point of the third-party campaigns was that running any campaign for or against a candidate in an election was illegal unless it was authorised by the agent of one of the candidates. The third-party rule was brought in to let people campaign either on non-party issues (for instance there are pro and anti fox-hunting campaigns, and SPUC will run a campaign against abortion; various organisations will run anti-European campaigns also) or against a particular party without having to endorse someone (eg the UAF / Searchlight anti-BNP campaigns). Running a separate second campaign for a particular candidate smacks of the US soft-money nonsense. The Electoral Commission should smack this down hard, and indeed the unions themselves should not be allowed to use the non-partisan Political Fund for this purpose.

mark patrick norris said...

Italian Job 3
The first 10 mins of the film you will see the old coach with the gold hang of the cliff as Gordon Brown has shut his banks and handbag. The new economy ping it to David Cameron strait flip to find a name on the 11th minute colour TV National Express coach hanging of cliff with the new gold Michael Caine said a spell at 6 on time recovery 25 minutes into the film the coach is now back in Dover with a pong said Boris the coach driver the gold is transfer into the new 12 mini’s to switch and boot it across Kent campaign they get to the city where they have a police Trafalgar SquareCampaign the 12 cars make back to south of the river to a trusted place cold play.45 minutes into the film the 12 cars deliver there gold from the top here we go
Italian Job 3 vehicle 12 gos on m25 junction 13 the film fads into black and white resolution 1441 back to 1941 to good night sweet heart to deliver its gold vehicle 11Holloway prison minibus now the gold is in prison gold melted down and inserted into the females colour and closer said the film director when they come out of prison they have to give birth to it vehicle 10 male prison Campaign now the gold is delivered vehicle 9 over Westminster bridge hand brake turn driver shots out dell boy Campaign del boy gets in car pick up Rodney dress as bat man they go to see boycie they go back to the nags head to dish out the gold vehicle 1 Michael Caine gets nicked.

mark patrick norris said...

Part 2 Songs for the economy

As we have the new kings Gun's and Roses on a lock harness ( as we ford focus ) O Osborne as the kingdom has new eyes and ears as labour are full of sham down the years so king’s Conservative as the kingdom takes hold do you fill my rain said the king’s mint Yes I fill the same said OZ ( C.S. Lewis ) at the dispatch box as we have a new head of hearts and minds with the kingdom it will be a cake walk in may of guy forks as we egg as we wheel as we spoke as we swing in arms as we bar and handle as we seat on a push bike city spirit dispatch it dot the easy and cross the teas sauce and spoon of November rain as we are James Blunt about it the kingdom is brilliant and its pure as we man a plan ( 45 warning ton ) its true Isley Brothers a summer breeze as we pub leaves of power as we peddle and stall across said Oz That’s right said the king bishop at 12 Aldgate as we power Pet Shop Boys as labour did start the hell sin now the king Conservative’s will bin the 13 years of hell on the king bell housing

( ford focus ) Elvis Presley now believe the word I say we don’t have suspicious mind we have hearts and minds yesterday on may over the 40 knights and 40 days on Billy jean on a military plate so that’s why we could not go along with labour so we now have built the kingdom dreams on Conservative’s hearts and minds so lets not let a good thing die Bran van 3000 as kings Conservative’s mi5 did nothing that day Cold Playas we fix it all up in places that day with forward and reveres levers on enigma Paloma Faith you have made my new York to day said king Douglas Hurd also said the kingdom has a sweet mind William Hague said he hurd the dimensions across the spectrum for the recovery so watch this space Paul Weller as the kings Conservative’s mi5 are going under ground to screen Grace Jones la vie en rose as we take the labour to the parlour said the king now ping as we sling shoot that old thing 21 gun salute Marvin Gay so lets get it on time recovery as we Mary poppings

Alamski kill the labour and seal for a better day..

Part 3 Songs for the economy

On black Wednesday with the black swan on the black sea we will on budget day change the names to all the high street banks sow they become part or sub part of the bank of England for Example Barclays bank will be a sub bank of the bank of England 66 million uk citizens will receive a state credit debit card as we watch the sun come up as I wish you well sum George Michael as the Conservative kingdom Has had a enough of danger as the kings police will down dress and dress up as Conservative police ( mi5 ) strange as we lend a hand to remove them from power as we crystal palace clear that’s right right right said Michael Heseltine now we are onour feet instead of foot Bob Marley as we will in place the kings Asian police deputy as the new chairman to the M.P.A as the kings Conservative mi5 mr brown who is mr pink will shoot the Sheriff and there long members down as we will inquire to fire said the kings bishop Elkie Brooks the qeens police are week week week on there radios as the kings police have come though as we have the piano string as we have the keys as we pedal and stall new clubs new cards new seals