Unite shooting itself in foot as pulling Starmer money could hurt trade unions

Unite the Union slammed by De Bois for ‘hypocritical opportunism’

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Unite, the Labour’Party’s biggest single funder, has announced that it will cut political donations to the party. It is a huge blow to leader Sir Keir Starmer, who was hoping to advance on Labour’s recent lead on the Conservatives in the polls. Labour has relied heavily on donations from Unite in order to launch general election campaigns and other political endeavours.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s new general secretary, said that the union would still pay £1million in affiliation fees to Labour.

However, the bulk of political donations will now go to grassroots left-wing groups elsewhere in the UK — something that Ms Graham’s predecessor, Len McCluskey, previously threatened to do.

Of the announcement, Ms Graham said: “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.”

She cited her decision as being driven by Labour’s lack of talking about workers’ rights and defending communities.

Ms Graham ran on a leadership campaign that promised less political intervention than Mr McCluskey and the likes of Steve Turner and former runner Howard Beckett.

Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham, said that this means money is the only power she has over Labour.

He questioned what benefit the withdrawal of funds might have for Unite given that the organisation depends on the Labour Party for influence in the UK.

Vitally, he said that it might actually hurt the trade union and attract outside donors who are not on board with the further left aspect of Labour, similar to what happened under Tony Blair and New Labour.

Prof Fielding told Express.co.uk: “This is not going to do Labour any good in the short to medium term.

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“But really, who’s going to be hurt by it? In the end, it’s going to be the trade unions, because they need a Labour government as much as Labour needs trade union money.

“The more Labour looks like it could be a possible party of government, then there will be other people who step in.

“Not trade unions, but the kinds of people who stepped in under New Labour: rich individuals who have left-wing sympathies.

“Ironically, if a far-left trade union leader says we’re not going to back Keir Starmer, actually, there will be some people who might think ‘that is the kind of Labour Party I would like to back’.

“She’s got her own agenda, and it might hurt her more than she thinks in the long run.”

Mr McCluskey, who was a vehement supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, had already reduced Unite’s financial commitment to Labour by ten percent after Sir Keir became Labour leader.


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He was angry over Labour’s direction under Sir Keir, with a Unite source in October 2020 saying the organisation felt he and his team were “just not listening”.

At the time, Sir Keir said he enjoyed “strong relations” with Unite.

It is unclear to what extent his communication with Unite under Ms Graham has continued.

She skipped the Labour Party conference in September to focus on industrial disputes.

While she has met Sir Keir, she claimed that Westminster’s obsession with party rules and whether there was “tax [cut] on champagne” during the Budget was a sign of how out of touch politicians have become.

She told The Guardian: “I don’t know what world they’re living in, but [they] don’t live in the one I’m living in, because [in] the one I’m inhabiting, people are frightened.

“They feel that they don’t know what’s happening next. They are angry. They are in pain.

“And the idea that the politicians can’t get their act together and start talking about what to do about it I find outrageous.”

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