Isabel Hardman

Party donations highlight risk to Labour of union link reform

Party donations highlight risk to Labour of union link reform
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The Electoral Commission's latest release on donations to political parties in the second quarter of 2013 are quite handy for the Tories. Firstly, there's the caveat that no party really benefits from discussing funding because everyone ends up looking a little bit grubby, and because the only thing grubbier and more unattractive to voters would be full state funding of political parties, then this will always be a grubby-looking business. So of course there are donations from big business to the Conservative party (although the biggest individual donor to the Tories was in fact a woman who wanted to donate money to the 'government of the day' in her will, which meant her legacy was divided between the two Coalition parties).

But the detail of donations to Labour is useful for the party's opponents, no matter what their own arrangements are, because it highlights how very dependent the party has become on donations from trade unions. Affiliated trade unions were behind 77 per cent of Labour donations. That's £2.4 million from trade unions, and only £354,692 from individuals. Here is the breakdown of the top donations to Labour:

1. Unite the Union - £772,195

2. GMB - £485,830

3. Unison - £458,080

4. Usdaw - £411,147

5. CWU - £143,121

This reliance on union funding is of course all the more interesting because Miliband is currently trying to reform his party's link with the unions and has already been threatened with a loss of funding as a result. There is firstly the effect on finances of the new opt-in system that Miliband wants to introduce. But the most menacing threat so far came in Unite leader Len McCluskey's speech in July, when he warned that his union’s political fund could be put to a ‘variety’ of uses, ‘not just handing over to the Labour party as has generally happened’. In that instance McCluskey was clear that money would only keep flowing if his union had a greater say over Labour policy. Today's Electoral Commission figures underline the big financial risk that Miliband is taking if he refuses to offer any greater role in policymaking to unions, unless there is a Joan LB Edwards figure out there who fancies bequeathing a lot of money to the beleaguered opposition of the day.