Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham, is following through on her promise to re-direct funds to campaigns that have worker’s interests at their heart. Speaking to the Guardian on Thursday, Graham explained “there’s a lot of other money that we use from our political fund where, actually, I’m not sure we’re getting the best value for it… The fact that I am being quite robust is because Labour needs to talk about workers, needs to defend workers and needs to defend communities.” However, the Labour Party have responded by openly dismissing workers concerns as “left wing issues” that, apparently don’t concern them.
Unite haven’t, as yet, decided to disaffiliate with the Labour Party so they will continue to pay the usual affiliation fee (estimated to be between £1-1.5million, depending on which source you reference) but campaign donations will now be cut back and perhaps even halted. To provide some perspective on how much money the party could stand to lose, we’ve researched the Electoral Commission records and found some pretty eye-watering sums of money that Unite have donated to the Labour Party over recent years, including during 4 election years…
Total donations from Unite Union
There’s no question that Unite is the Labour Party’s biggest donor so it comes as some surprise that the response from the party has been somewhat indifferent to their concerns. Labour’s national campaign coordinator, Shabana Mahmood, said she was “not concerned” because “Trade unions pay affiliation fees to the Labour Party and that has not changed as far as Unite is concerned.. But, of course, what they do with the rest of their money that they collect from their members for political campaigning, it has always been the case that some of that is directed towards the Labour Party and some of it goes into other local campaigns. Nothing that Sharon Graham said recently is a change on what we’ve always expected and what is standard practice amongst trade unions and certainly what she said her union was intending to do upon her election. So, I’m afraid, there’s nothing really to see here. Trade unions always fund different types of campaigning across the country and we are not concerned about the support we are receiving from our partners in the trade union movement.”
Given that Unite’s annual donations over the last 15yrs average close to £4.5million, this kind of flippancy is quite surprising. According to allies of Keir Starmer, he’s equally ‘unconcerned’ about the “threat” but is hopeful that there could be some dialogue with the union in the lead up to the next general election. Perhaps he thinks he can win them back by making a few last minute promises that he probably has zero intention of keeping. Certainly, many ex & current Labour Party members wouldn’t trust a promise from Keir Starmer, given that he’s yet to keep a single promise he made to Labour party membership during his leadership campaign.
Another Starmer ally has been quoted by iNews as saying “Keir is bringing in a lot of funding from other donors with his pro-business agenda,… While it’s definitely a dent that nobody can deny, it’s not going to kill us financially. Unite also seem to be mistaken on what the Labour Party is if they’re looking to fund other ‘left wing causes’ which just undermine the political wing of the trade unions, which is Labour.” In other words, fighting for worker’s rights is a left wing cause that the current party administration have no interest in supporting, choosing, instead, to form allegiances with big business.
Could it be that the Labour Party’s Tory transformation is now fully complete, is this just a load of bluster by the current administration or is this a clear intent to weaken the influence of Unions on the Labour Party? Certainly, most large organisations experiencing financial difficulties don’t want people to know when they’re in trouble and will try and keep their financial woes under cover for as long as possible rather than risk scaring off other potential investors. Given that the party has also lost an estimated 150-200k members under Keir Starmer (so potentially up to £10million in lost subs) and the party has been hit by a number of rather costly legal challenges, I think it’s fair to say that Starmer will already have a substantial financial black hole to fill and Unite pulling funds will sting, as well as make it even harder to persuade other donors to invest – businesses who have to consider whether their investment is in safe hands and whether they’d get a better return on their investment if they just gave it to the Tories again. After all, many of them have done rather well supporting the Tories in the past, haven’t they?
Of course, to some businesses, weakening the influence of Unions might make Labour a slightly more attractive prospect for investment than it was previously but if the party are in financial difficulty and if the polls don’t favour them winning an election then there aren’t likely to be many investors coming forward. Additionally, if Labour demonstrates this level of utter disrespect and dismisses the concerns of a major donor like Unite, who have, after all, invested in the region of £65Million and paid an estimated £15-20million in affiliation fees over the last 15yrs, then there should be questions over how committed the party would be to delivering on the promises they are now making to business donors. The other concern business donors will also have is that party administrations do change and, unlike the Tories, the Labour Party still has the potential to swing further left so the opportunity to get a return on their investment is small, as long as Labour continue to struggle in the polls and it is also time limited. Of course, anything can happen before the next election comes round – if there’s a leadership challenge then that could result in a change of administration before they’ve seen a return.
All things considered, it would seem the current Labour administration is either extremely naive, inexperienced and incompetent or their agenda is to destroy the Labour Party. Perhaps ‘New Labour’ are playing the long game and are content to keep Labour unelectable for as long as it takes to transform it into the ‘New Tory’ party?
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