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Is Whelan Labour's Ashcroft?

Nick Robinson | 16:35 UK time, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

He's political director of the union which has given Labour £11m since 2007.

His union pays the salary of one of Gordon Brown's Downing Street staff.

Charlie WhelanIt's Westminster group of Labour MPs totals over 160.

It is highly efficient at ensuring that its supporters are selected as candidates for Labour safe seats.

He is Charlie Whelan.

It is Unite - the union at the heart of the British Airways dispute.

It is absolutely fair to describe the Labour Party as the political wing of Unite - that, at least, is what the party's former General Secretary Peter Watt has said.

I've been speaking to Charlie Whelan about that claim and the suggestion that he is Labour's answer to Lord Ashcroft - a suggestion that he himself has made in private for months. Whelan boasts about the fact that's he's countering the Tory peer's impact in marginal seats by organising a virtual phone bank in which union members are given the software, the scripts and money to pay for calls they make to other union members as part of an operation to get them to vote Labour.

Whelan insists that he is merely spending the voluntary donations of ordinary union members who - he says pointedly - all pay their taxes in order to prevent the election of a government which will hurt "ordinary working people".

Voters will have to decide whether they are moved by Whelan's description of his role or Watt's.


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  • Comment number 1.

    I find the comment about the money being "voluntary donations of ordinary union members" is this actually the case? Or is this money coming out of membership fees? As I imagine that there are members who are part of the union for the "strength in numbers" it provides rather than because they politically support Labour.

    Also is it true that the Government has provided taxpayers money to the Unions as part of a Modernisation drive? If this is true than it is rather worrying that this same Union is able to pay money back to the Labour party.

    I would only imagine the outcry from the left if a future Tory government gave taxpayers money to a company run by Lord Ashcroft which was then used to donate money back to the Tories.

  • Comment number 2.

    Devious ugly business

  • Comment number 3.

    But could the union have given Labour £11,000,000 if it hadn't received £4,000,000 from the taxpayer for "modernisation"? If it could, why did it need money from the taxpayer?

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Where you get a Yin you get a Yan.

  • Comment number 6.

    It rather makes a mockery of claims for PR if 2 million people can have 160 MPs in Parliament!

  • Comment number 7.


    The sheer arrogance of Whelan is quite unbelievable. Your comment on the DP Show about all the divisions in the Unite union were apt. That the two leaders of Unite cannot stand being in the same room together speaks volumes. Considering pay freezes and a bellicose Trade Union movement, strikes and strife cannot be too far away in the months ahead.

  • Comment number 8.

    I cannot believe you've interviewed Unite's political director and Brown attack dog just to drag up Ashcroft once again.

    And that on the day Brown finally admitted in the commons to misleading parliament, the public and Chilcot over defence cuts.

    A spin doctor or Brown's admission over defence spending. Tough call?

  • Comment number 9.

    Does anyone on the BBC including Nick Robinson know anything about Trade Unions?. It seems that Charlie Whelan hasn't much idea; if he had he could have dealt with the BBC completely. Mr Whelan is not Lord Ashcroft though I'm sure he'd like his money. Let me acquaint the BBC with the facts. Finance to any party through the trade union movement & could in theory go to the monster raving loony party if its members wish, finance goes through the Trade Union as a conduit. The money IS NOT any particular unions money. The money can only be looked @ as individual donations from Union members. In the Union subscriptions there is a small proportion set aside as a political fund. If an individual member wishes NOT to contribute to the political fund he or she can opt out and thereby obtain Union membership at a slightly lower rate. At the Annual conference, for which branch has a copy of the Annual report issued, branch meetings can decide to accept the Annual report including the choice of party recieving the amlount in the political fund. IT IS ALWAYS OPEN TO CHALLENGE IF DESIRED.
    I know that this is slightly inconvenient for the Tories who wish to deflect the rightful criticism of the tax dodging Lord Ashcroft. Why isn't anyone acquainted with the truth of this matter @ the BBC. Surely to be professional shouldn't someone clue up on the subject or is the BBC too full of right-wing thinkers. Finally, the childish David Cameron wishes clearly the BA dispute to escalate. Can you imagine this bloke as PM

  • Comment number 10.

    it might be that they cannot opt out of paying a levie that they do not want to pay either.

    Instead of striking for more pay they should be protesting for less tax, caused by there chief benifactor UNITE, lead by a modern day red robbo of the 70's.

    If the TV licence was cut from 142, to 50 per year they would be better off to the tune of 92 pounds , now apply that idea in other area of UNITE_LIEBOUR spending and they would not need a pay rise at all.

  • Comment number 11.

    I would imagine the members of the Unite union would be able to remove Mr Whelan if they felt that was the right course of action.
    Could the members of the Tory party remove 'Lord Sleaze of Belize'?

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    He is a best friend of the PM and once worked for him, he his not part of the UNITE rank and file , which shows the distain for which the UNTIE_LIEBOUR have for the working class.

    Was this a setup to make Gordo look good to save the day again , or was it utter contempt by GB of the working class , to try and get the dispute pushed out until after the election ?

  • Comment number 14.

    I am retired.

    I pay my taxes.

    I voluntarily pay the retirement rate subscription to Unite.

    I want Unite to work for the return of a Labour government.

    Lord Ashcroft is using untaxed money to support the Conservatives which is immoral.

  • Comment number 15.

    I stupidly thought that the membership fees were mandatory although the portion to be given to Labour could be donated to charity instead. I also though that the vast amount was to provide for members if they were called out on strike.

    I did not think it was for Chopper Charlie and Red United to spend it organising a take over of the Parliamentary Labour Party?

    Now that is a scary scary prospect if they succeed!

  • Comment number 16.

    This is a totally different league to LA, its like comparing sunday league to the Premiership , Whelan being in the premiership.

    So the 160 CLub UNITE_LIEBOUR are beholden to whom, the electorate or
    the one man of the UNITE unions, so that One man can decide the voice of 160*65,000 other people , is that what labour calls democracy

  • Comment number 17.

    He is making the assumption that ALL union members are in full agreement of how there contibutions are being spent !!

    The best way to look at this is "do all the union members really vote NuLab" do they hell.This cannot be considered a good use of thier money !!!!!!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Thank you Nick for mentioning this man, Please look into him with as much enthusiasm as you did Ashcroft.

    Unions like Unite in my opinion hold to much power, and are more about bully boy tactics to increase their paycheques and the leaders fame rather than looking after the actual workers as they were initially devised to do.

    Unions should be between a employer and its employees. They have no place in politics.

  • Comment number 19.

    5:01pm on 17 Mar 2010, Roland D wrote:

    "But could the union have given Labour £11,000,000 if it hadn't received £4,000,000 from the taxpayer for "modernisation"? If it could, why did it need money from the taxpayer?"

    I suspect they'd have only managed to bankroll them to the tune of 7 million. This really does stink, especially now Charlie Whelan has admitted that it pays the salaries of numerous Labour party staff, in addition to one or two within Downing St.

  • Comment number 20.

    @Mark_WE: Yes, it really is voluntary contributions. As it happens, I'm a member of that very union. They had to ask me (and all the other members) a while ago whether or not I wanted to contribute to the political fund from my monthly subscription. I would imagine a fair number of people opted out at that point. I needed to send the form back in order to opt *in*, so I presume a lack of response was interpreted as a "no".

    I believe that contribution to unions' political funds was assumed until relatively recently, but I know that the opt-in mailout was required by a change in trades unions law.

    So yes, they genuinely are voluntary contributions. :o)

  • Comment number 21.

    Unite is not based in Belize. Trade unionists and their union pay their taxes in the UK. End of comparison.

  • Comment number 22.

    He is far worse at least with Ashcoft which is not satifactory he DOES pay tax on his UK earnings.
    Whelan has been at the heart of the Labour Govt and still is

    Unite are parachuting senior Unite officials into safe Labour seats

    Unite are in reciept of circa £4.5 million a Year from the so called Modernisation fund "Taxpayers money"

    Which is then in turn given back to the Labour party, neat eh? Brown has found a way to be Paxpayer funded and a Union with a £25million warchest is hardly in need of Taxpayers money is it?

    This is far murkier than anything the Govt try to raise about Lord Ashcroft and shall we talk about Labour Non Doms and there job destruction activities.

    Finally do the Unite Members many of whom are not Labour Supporters know and agree that the dues they hand over a being used in the way?

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    14 RobertLL

    "I want Unite to work for the return of a Labour government."


    Given the number of Labour MPs being financed by Unite, it would rather appear to be that the Labour Party are actually working for the return of a Unite government.

    There is a very disturbing confict of interest here .......

  • Comment number 25.

    Hilarious how sagamix and his UNITE friends take so long to any anti newlabour post as they huddle together and work out what the party line is.

    And the real answer to your question is, No. Charlie Whelan is not the labour party's Lord Ashcroft; he's worse, he has a fully paid employee sitting in Downing Street. His union directs government policy. He has hand picked 111 MPs. And he has been responsible for directing £11m towards the labour party rather than £5m from Lord Cashcroft, !£1m of which was paid back.

    When did you see newlabour pay anyone back for anything? Never.

    Call an election.

  • Comment number 26.


    Is Whelan Labour's Lord Ashcroft ?

    Only in context that you can use some extremely tenuous link to keep Ashcrofts name in the news.

  • Comment number 27.

    It is frightening to think the government is being run by a group of senior Unite managers rather than elected members.

    It should be noted that Unite members have joined a union because it is part of their employment contract not necessarily because they wanted to join a union. The same can be said about donations, made by Unite, from their membership fees or union dues, these are given (in this case to the Labour party) because senior Unite bureaucrats have a vested interest in that particular group, not necessarily because it is in the best interest of Unite members.

    I think it is important to remember that Unite is as much 'big business' as any other company and like most big business, the first priority is sustainability, not employee (or member) welfare. Maybe it is time for Unite's members, the average person not the senior bureaucrats, to make the decisions. Do you really want to hand your government over to big business or do you want it returned to the people?

  • Comment number 28.

    Far as I'm aware, there is a mechanism for Union members to agree to pay a political levy but no mechanism for them to influence which party/ties the money is used to support.

    I can't work out how sitting members of the Commons can be members of Unite. I didn't realise the unions could recruit members of either House of Parliament.

    Rather surprised that Nick didn't comment on Brown's admission that he misled the Chilcot Inquiry (and had said the same stuff in the HoC on several occasions)...

    There's nothing newsworthy about the fact that Unte has kept the Lanour Party going, or that it "places" people into winnable seats.

    It's a major event when Brown admits he got anything wrong. And startling when it concerns financial statistics. That's supposed to be area of strength.
    Either he didn't give a damn about the Chilcot team, so didn't bother to check before he went to give evidence, or he knew he was wrong, but - as the Generals said - he simply dissembled.

    Either way, it shows a massive lack of respect for the inquiry and a casuality about dealing with matters affecting the lives of our military and other people's citizens.

    Don't even get started on the dodgy "un-employment statistics".
    If some headline numbers have dropped, where exactly have the applicants been employed?
    If people drop off the JSA after 6 months, that's not the same as no longer being unemployed...

  • Comment number 29.

    It is absolutely fair to describe all the main parties as puppets of the capitalist class. Lets not obfuscate, Nick.

  • Comment number 30.

    The reality & facts are this:

    - Whelan used to work for Brown - they are buddies (nothing wrong with this, but it does confirm a strong link between the 2).
    - Whelan left under a cloud - but is back working closely with Brown & Labour.
    - Unite "donate" huge sums to Labour & obviously expect something in return which they clearly get - ie: influence, in buckets !
    - many Labour MP's are "sponsored" by Unite
    - Brown @ PMQ's today could not bring himself to criticise further Unite for taking strike action when there are plenty of jobless in the UK already.
    - It is sheer double standards from Brown & Labour to defend this position yet criticise Ashcroft, who is 1 man, who is paying tax in the UK on UK earnings.

  • Comment number 31.

    Nick, why do you think that any one gives a toss about non-doms from either party? If I was a millionaire I wouldn't want money I earned in other countries taxed and spent by labour either!!

    The interesting thing here is unions shooting themselves and labour in the foot thinking there is any public support for strike action. If labour dont oppose them they are damned and they are also damned if they do. Happy days!!

  • Comment number 32.

    Labour pays Union Modernisation fund to UNITE.
    UNITE pays Labour the money back in donations.

    And Sitting MP Communications allowance. Most MP's are Labour

    This = Tax payer money's laundering to support the Government Party

    Bob Mugabe couldn't have come up with a better fiddle

  • Comment number 33.

    Are you expecting him to admit there is an issue here? Of course he won't.

    This is money laundering, pure and simple. The Labour party get the state (ie you and me) to pay into a modernisation fund which then goes straight back into Labour party coffers.

  • Comment number 34.

    Regarding the economy and the debate over when, and how much, to cut deficit spending. Can someone please show (or tell) me how the recovery is progressing?

    I keep hearing how things are getting better but I also keep reading about massive deficits, increasing unemployment (or at least decreasing full time employment) and very poor growth numbers. Britain has only just managed to creep out of recession. Hardly positive signs of better times.

    As a Canadian working in Britain (for a Canadian company) and being paid in Canadian dollars rather than British pounds I see my salary increase each month as the pound falls lower and lower. While that may appear to be good it is actually bad as it appears (to me) the British economy has all but failed. Canada and the US experienced growth of 5.0% and 5.9% in the 4th quarter of 2009, compared to Britain’s 0.3%. I’m not sure how Britain compares to the rest of Europe but I fear we lag behind those economies as well.

    Is this progress or improvement? Maybe things are getting better but the improvements are so miniscule that no one (other than politicians) can see them. How do we make things better? I have no idea. I’m just not that smart. However, we have a huge number of government members and employees who are being paid to do just that, have they made things any better or are they just telling us things have improved.

    Whether we cut more or less from the deficit spending, sooner or later; whether we impose government cut backs (and lord knows we could use less government) or reduce budgets or add even more taxes, something has to be done. It is time the politicos stopped playing games.

  • Comment number 35.


    Et tu Robinson?

  • Comment number 36.

    Hmmm, does make you wonder if Mr. Bowdery is something to do with a Union himself......I had to read his comment four times to fully understand what he was (or, actually wasn't) saying. Why can't they speak English? It goes to show that Unions are all about keeping themselves in power so they don't have to do a real job like the rest of us - I'm only surprised he didn't blame it all on Maggie T!
    Funny how we all know Ashcrofts name, but not those of the Labour peers who appear to have done the same thing!

  • Comment number 37.

    Mr Robinson, this is all very well but can we not get back to policies. I do not care one iota about a private company like British Airways and their dispute with their workers. Both sides should get round the negotiation table asap. It is the only way forward. The Government and the Opposition should be united in calling for talks and no party should be using this as an opportunity for political gain.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comparison is absurd. Unite has two million members,all of whom can opt out of making donations to the political fund if they wish. This is completely different from Lord Ashcroft of Belize seemingly being granted a peerage under false pretences by giving an assurance he would become resident here for tax purposes - and not merely for his UK earnings.

    Perhaps, Mr Robinson, you and your colleagues might want to consider looking at whether it was reasonable for Willie Walsh to withdraw the offer he made to BA cabin crew? It would be nice if you gave both sides of the dispute fair coverage rather than this anti-union "oh no, what about people's holidays?" rubbish.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    "14. At 5:18pm on 17 Mar 2010, RobertLL wrote:

    I am retired.

    I pay my taxes."

    Taxes has nothing what so ever to do with the issue, unless you are suggesting that political funding should come from an income tax levy?

    "I voluntarily pay the retirement rate subscription to Unite.

    I want Unite to work for the return of a Labour government."

    Up to that point I could agree, it would be nice to have a return of a Labour government (or even party, if not in government) and not the shame that is NuLabour, all spin and not substancem, with a "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality. I may or many not agree with a single word people like Tony Benn, Denis Skinner or even Arthur Scargill says but I respect the honesty in what they say, not the say anything that will get me/us (re)elected. I see that Brown has had to retract some of his Iraq war evidence today too...

    "Lord Ashcroft is using untaxed money to support the Conservatives which is immoral."

    But that is the point that so many do not seem to understand, the money doesn't need to be taxed as it wasn't earnt in the UK, QED.

    Also, it is immoral that a union can give money to a political party, if there is an excess of funds the money should be returned to the members, not given away by officials for political advantage - there must be many Unite members who will neither support or give money directly to NuLabour but the Union officials ride ruff-shod over their members wishes.

  • Comment number 41.

    Why did Nick Robinson not challenge Whelan over his claim that all those Unite members who gave their money to the Labour Party campaign, did so voluntarily? I would have asked him whether Unite members were in fact free to say 'No' to paying dues to the Labour Party. I bet they're not.
    Why should you have to pay a compulsory political levy to be a member of a union? Why shouldn't you be able to choose which party you support, or choose not to pay towards any. Do closed shops still operate in Unite-dominated industries? This whole business smacks of Mafia-style union control, which I thought had died out in the '70s. The fact that this outfit can propel chosen union activists into so many Labour seats and thus control decisions on how our tax money is spent is truly scary.

  • Comment number 42.

    So the UNITE union gives money to Labour - via the political fund, which individual members contribute to, and can opt out of, and was regulated by government regulation. And Nick Robinson wants to know is Charlie Whelan Labour's Lord Ashcroft - wrong target, wrong subject

  • Comment number 43.

    Yep he is Labour's Ashcroft. You are dead right there.

    Is he the bloke who, with Draper et al, caused all that rumpus about trying to dish the dirt on members of the Tory party?

    Brown looked decidedly distrait today at PMQs. Could it be he knows of more faux pas along with his mis-statement on defence at the Chilcot Inquiry?

  • Comment number 44.

    I really do not expect this comment to be shown as the moderator appears to enjoy blocking my inputs (and then not replying to my request to explain why). Anyway, here goes: Nick - surely the big political story of the day was GB actually admitting that he had made a "mistake" with his Chilcott evidence. He must have known before he appeared at the inquiry that MOD funding would be the main topic of questioning, and therefore would have checked and re-checked the facts. It is not credible that he made a mistake: he knew that what he was saying was wrong and tried to get away with it. I believe that this is called lying.

  • Comment number 45.

    I believe this is the same Charlie Whelan who presented a Sunday morning show on Radio 5 in the early noughties with Amanda Platell as a co-host. Ah yes:

    As I recall he often did his part of the show whilst fishing in Scotland. Nice to know where our licence fee goes...

  • Comment number 46.

    Isn't the problem that of special interest, banking, big business and unions all seeking advantage though politics rather than production. The tied old politics of the past are continued as the rest of the world moves on. The need for new infrastructre is mainly for political parties and their failure to represent the interest of the people and the nation. After the government and the banks facilitated the movement of jobs to other countries the remainer fight over the crumbs. England reminds one of Ireland during the patato famine, which of course wasn't a famine at all, simply that the food and other products were shipped somewhere else. The corporate state is in charge and the people are of little matter. Once the whole thing falls apart and cheap labor is availabe the swing will be back to Western production, but of course China and India have many poor, so it will take awhile.

  • Comment number 47.

    'It is absolutely fair to describe the Labour Party as the political wing of Unite - that, at least, is what the party's former General Secretary Peter Watt has said'

    Fair play to you Nick for highlighting this issue. I suspect that the Unite link will be even more damaging to Labour than Lord A is to the Tories not least because Lord A's influence has waned since David Cameron took over whereas the grip Unite has over Labour just gets stronger & stronger.

  • Comment number 48.

    #9 Ron Bowdery

    Blimey Ron!Still got the cloth cap and whippets?

  • Comment number 49.

    Whelan is far, far worse than Ashcroft.
    Ashcroft uses his own money (UK Taxed or not, it's still legal) and has at least set up charities to help the victims of crime (given anecdotal evidence and personal experience the number of which has soared under labour).

    Whelan helps redirect TAX PAYERS money back to Labour. He uses OUR money to push out government propaganda at Downing St.

    He is a bully (as overheard berating Journalists for not toe-ing the line) and of generally dubious character (Although I dislike Mandelson, but to stab your own team-mate in the back is awful).

  • Comment number 50.

    21. At 5:28pm on 17 Mar 2010, exNewsgatherer wrote:

    "Unite is not based in Belize. Trade unionists and their union pay their taxes in the UK. End of comparison."

    The comparison irrelevant, a union should not be using members money unless every member has agreed to their monies being used in that way. This is the comparison that matter: LA used his own personal (taxed in country of origin) money, Charlie Whelan isn't....

  • Comment number 51.

    18. At 5:23pm on 17 Mar 2010, calmandhope wrote:

    Unions like Unite in my opinion hold to much power, and are more about bully boy tactics to increase their paycheques and the leaders fame rather than looking after the actual workers as they were initially devised to do.

    Unions should be between a employer and its employees. They have no place in politics.

    Why? Why should Unions have no place in poltics? What on earth do you think politics are? The Union movement was the main founder of the Labour Party.
    If it wasn't for bully-boy management there would be no union movement because it wouldn't be necessary.

  • Comment number 52.


    To be blunt, you're wrong.

    Let me clarify the issues surrounding unions:

    - union membership is voluntary

    - those who join can opt-out of political donations by ticking a box, they then pay less membership

    - the unions are democratic organisations (hence the voting process) run for and on behalf of it's members, THEY MAKE NO PROFIT

    - under Thatcher the unions were rendered impotent and this has not been reversed by Labour, New Labour's love affair is with the wealthy and with big business

    - union members pay full tax and NI (Lord Michael Ashcroft doesn't)

    - Our current economic situation is not down to the unions, on the contrary, if you remember not long ago IT WAS THE BANK'S THAT NATIONALISED THEIR LOSSES and now pay themselves huge bonuses to celebrate pulling off their greatest coup.

    - Do you remember that great British company, Cadbury's? Well, it wasn't the unions who sold it out to a pretty mediocre American company, it was short-term investors such as hedge fund managers only in for a quick buck. There are numerous other great British companies who have suffered the same fate (with jobs exported).

    BA, unfortunately, has made a succession of poor business choices such as betting on premium fares to the detriment of economy passengers, not upgrading their interiors whilst other airlines offer top-end luxury for less, etc. Whilst the BA cabin crew are the best paid in the industry it's only because the industry is so poorly paid so really their pay is pretty ordinary - has anybody looked at the total remuneration of the board (it's not just about skipping a month's pay here or there)?

    Anyway, put simply, anyone who travels BA knows it's not the cabin crew destroying our national airline.

    One final note, the Tories, two years ago, tasked former MEP, Richard Balfe, to be their union envoy. His job was to let the 6 million union movement know that 'the Tories weren't out to get them'. I think perhaps poor Mr Balfe might feel redundant but I suppose he could always go and man a strike-breaking flight for a few quid.

  • Comment number 53.

    A few questions.

    A) Do the funds donated to Labour come purely from the political levy?
    B) Do the union members feel that they won't be properly represented if they don't pay the levy?
    C) Can they ask for the levy to go to another party?
    D) With 160 MP's on your books even if you were a ultra-right wing Tory perhaps you might feel your interests were better served?
    E) Did Unite really get a £4.5m "Modernisation Fund" from Labour then donate £11m? Seems odd. Could have saved a fortune on bank transfers and just donated £6.5m...
    F) Did Ashcroft's donation come from his foreign income or from his taxed UK income?
    G) How can a union of 2m members have influence over almost half of the government MPs?
    H) Do the tax paying public get an option NOT to pay a levy in tax to support the unions and their "Modernisation"?
    I) And off topic... How come Brown didn't have his facts right at Chilcott? He's supposed to be on top of everything financial and meticulous to a fault. Could it be that he knew he was somewhat far from the truth.....

    That's it for now, answers on a postcard from Belize please!

  • Comment number 54.

    As a UNITE member, I am absolutely incensed at the way in which our member fees are being used. I pay my dues and support our unions to ensure employees are not unfairly treated, and what do I get in return? Some jumped-up official speaking on my behalf, telling me what party to vote for, and supporting that party with massive donations that I helped pay for! How dare they presume to interfere in our political process!

    If I can ensure that my dues are not used in this way, I will - UNITE does not even tell you that there is an opt-out! It should be an opt-in! No union should have a default political affliation. I will be strongly considering not renewing my membership. For the record, I will be voting Conservative. If anything, this sort of behaviour, of which the Labour Party clearly approves, smacking of old communism rather than democracy, encourages me to do so.

  • Comment number 55.

    Couldn't care two hoots about non-doms or Union influence. Why get excited about things which we knew were going on anyway. The real crime is that at the moment those who who want to form a government are doing their best to avoid telling us what they intend to do should they win.

    All we hear are a few vote grabbing wishes, but very little and nothing even vaguely specific about the cuts that everyone knows are coming. Wouldn't political journalists being doing their jobs better if they could flush these out rather than acting like the political equivalent of Heat magazine?

  • Comment number 56.

    Again the question that still needs to be asked and answered is "are the monies paying for the phonecalls to boost NL votes coming for the politicall fund oe normal subscriptions"

    If not from the political fund then this is abuse of members monies as they have NO opt out !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 57.

    "I want Unite to work for the return of a Labour government."


    From what I understand Unite is not just working for the return of a Labour govt but given the number of candidates it's putting up is hoping to be part of a Labour Govt.

  • Comment number 58.

    40. At 6:03pm on 17 Mar 2010, Boilerplated wrote:

    It is immoral that a union can give money to a political party

    Why is that immoral? Why should any organisation not be able to fund a political party that supports it's views? That's the main reason that people donate to political parties.

    there must be many Unite members who will neither support or give money directly to NuLabour but the Union officials ride ruff-shod over their members wishes.

    There probably are. They would be the members who elect not to pay the voluntary political levy. 'Union Officials' don't ride rough-shod over their members wishes, because they wouldn't be officials for very long. They are democratically elected. The Union is it's members.

  • Comment number 59.

    Lets hope the strike goes ahead and the union uses the members contributions for what they are supposed to be used for paying strikers wages.

    Then GB and NL will have less money to spend on the generaql election campaign !! (nobody else will give them money..........

  • Comment number 60.

    I am nothing to do with the Labour party or any union and I have never once voted for Labour in any election, but many posts here are ridiculous.

    Posters here are alleging:
    * That people are only members of Unite because their employment contract demands they join the union. That is the closed shop and is illegal.

    * That Unite members are not voluntarily contributing to the Labour party. Union political contributions are opt-in not opt-out due to recent changes in legislation and the members are free to review what group the fund is donated to annually.

    * That Unite's contribution to a political party (by pooling voluntarily donated funds from their UK members taxed income) is somehow equivalent or worse than Lord Ashcroft personally donating money he individually has earnt overseas and paid no UK tax on in spite of living here - an arrangement which causes the USA to describe Britain as an offshore tax haven. Overseas donations are supposed to be illegal, and by what logic is the collective act of many ordinary workers worse for democracy than the work of one man?

    I appreciate some people don't like Unions, the Labour Party or Charlie Whelan, but many arguments being put here repeatedly are simply false and on a level with disgusting slurs such as the 'Swiftboat Veterans' from 2004.

  • Comment number 61.

    No. 52

    Where does the money to employ people who work for Labour come from? The political levy?

  • Comment number 62.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 63.

    No Whelan and ASHCROFTcould barely be more different
    apolitical officer for a completely legal trade union,all of which are held in total disdain by the conservatives who historically put shareholder profit far and way above the rights of ordinary working people.Whelan has not given millions of his own untaxed income to the tories and because he islaw abiding and British pays british tax to thre HMRC
    Whelan has never gone on record to say his heart is in Belize which Ashcroft has, which has any reasonable elector wondering whether the best interests of Britain are best served by a party who's marginal seat electoralcampaign is being funded by a non dom non british taxpaying individual who has openly said his heart is in Belize.
    at least the unite union members pay much more in taxation than they do on their political levy which goes to fund the labour party and is optional NoT obligatory!

  • Comment number 64.

    #25 and they are not even trying to payback the national debt
    jsut slow it rate of increase. In its history labour have never paid
    anything back, its in there DNA like a thief to steal what is not there.

    Yeah and the communictaion budget was an other money laudering excersie
    too, using the money to help local counciller at elections under the cuise of consitunecy wide distribution , trying standing against the colour clossies that they produced when as a independ to have limited time and money but partically and legally . then you will see this as clear money laundering from the taxpayer to the labour party. been there done it seen it.

  • Comment number 65.

    Two million people pay 11 million pounds to get 111 Labour MP's in the pocket of the unite union. Sure, the members can opt out of paying a political levy, but they can't stop the union from handing over 11 million quid that would have made the hardship of a strike a bit easier to bear. In reality the union donation gives unite a massive stick with which to beat this Labour government and the means of blackmailing the government into doing anything it wants or face the risk of losing one third of it's vote in the commons as well as the Labour party's solvency. This is a helluvu lot more than Ashcroft could dream of achieving whatever he gives to the Tories.

  • Comment number 66.

    He's political director of the union which has given Labour £11m since 2007. His union pays the salary of one..."
    not entirely true unite union members have contributed £11m through the non compulsory political levy on their union dues
    Ihardly think the political officer of unite can, unlike ashcroft afford to give millions of his un hmrc taxed income to the psrty of his choice
    Neither has Whelan unlike Ashcroft who's donations were denied and fudged by the tory leadership for 10 years,Ashcroftpublicly stated his heart was in Belize casting considerable doubt onwhether he has the best interests of THE uk,he didn't even stick to the promises he alledgedly made to David Cameron before the tory leader recomended him for a knighthood, one of which was to be domiciled in the uk
    another was to payuk taxes to HMRCneither have happendWhelan has been nothing like as underhanded as those playing hide and seek with the truth aboutLord Ashcroft for over 10 years,disgraceful

  • Comment number 67.

    #32 on the money laudering front what do you think of the Guardian
    then with many many HMG jobs advertised there, should this not be spread
    around more competiviely etc given that the Guardian has become the new TASS, free propaganda for the UNITE_LIEBOUR party at taxpayers expense.

    also only a cetain "class" of person is then going to apply for the
    jobs thus using taxpayers earning to "fund" the labour party if they make a donation etc ?

  • Comment number 68.

    You can pay your subs to join Unite and have a say in what the union does.

    You cannot "join" Lord Ashcroft and have a say in whether he pays his taxes or not.

  • Comment number 69.

    Being linked to Unite, I'm conflicted and thus can't say a great deal on this. What I will say, however, is that Unite is a democratic organisation representing over 2 million ordinary working people in this country. If we didn't have a fair degree of political influence, it would be a scandal. Thankfully, we do. Is it too much? Too little? Not sure. Matter of opinion and I leave such judgement calls to others. Charlie Whelan? Not my cup of tea. A little uncouth, but he does get things done. We clash occasionally, gets quite spicy at times, but I have to admit he can be very effective in his own sweet way. The situation with us and Labour in no way compares to that of the Tories and Ashcroft. There we have a single (or perhaps he's married, who cares?) and enormously wealthy (Belize based) businessman - wealth protected by his non dom tax status - using a slice of his personal fortune in a seedy attempt buy the heart & soul of the Conservative Party. Thank goodness they have neither of those things or he might succeed. No comparison, as I say, to us and Labour. We need watching - no question about that - but the Ashcroft situation is quite simply unacceptable.

  • Comment number 70.

    Hmmm - Labour supported and funded by unions!!! Oh the shock! They've only been funded by Trade Unions since...err forever...

    Is this really what passes for news nowadays?

    Nearly as bad as ...shock...Tories funded by arrogant rich people who don't even pay tax in this country and supported by millionaire newspaper owners!!!

    Can we please get around to debating the issues some time soon, instead of the BBC and the Press pointing out the bleeding obvious?

  • Comment number 71.

    I cannot believe David Cameron's stance on the BA strike. Whoever wins the next election will have to implement substantial cuts in public spending and inevitably face industrial action. Should he not advocate reconciliation instead of causing provocation? He seems to equate, "leadership" with confrontation and reconciliation with weakness. Reminds me of Churchill who said, "Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War”! I am beginning to understand those who are casting doubts on the judgment of David Cameron and his front bench team.
    It is an insult to equate union member’s contribution (which they can opt out of anytime) to Labour with Lord Ashcroft. Union members pay all their taxes promptly through the PAYE system while Lord Ashcroft has secured his peerage on false pretences. This is a tactical blunder from the Tory strategist-you would think they would not want give their opponents any opportunity to comeback on the Ashcroft affair. If they think we are in the seventies (with respect to union power) then frankly they are even more out of touch then most people imagine.

  • Comment number 72.

    @54. ele_engineer:

    "As a UNITE member, I am absolutely incensed.....
    - UNITE does not even tell you that there is an opt-out!"

    I am sure a genuine UNITE member would know there's a simple choice about paying or not....

  • Comment number 73.

    By the way, I happen to know that Unite members have a choice as to whether to contribute to the 'political fund' or not.

    So this is just ordinary people who have chosen to give a small amount of money to the Labour Party and not choose to abstain from making that contribution.

  • Comment number 74.

    The parallel drawn between Charlie Whelan and Lord Ashcroft is specious and entirely absurd and I am astonished that a man as educated as you, Nick, should fall for it. Let's be clear. The money donated to the Labour party is NOT "Charlie Whelan's" money. It comes from the contributions of UNITE members to the union's political fund. These members live in this country; they work in this country; they pay their taxes in this country and they contribute fully to the economic life of this country. To equate these donations to those made by Lord Ashcroft is to miss the point in the most obtuse fashion.

    Moreover the donations of UNITE members must, by law, be to a specific political fund - NOT simply taken from membership dues - from which members can opt out and which has to be set up with the agreement of the members in a ballot held for that purpose. In what conceivable way can this be held to be similar to the contributions of a single non-dom millionaire made from money paid by people who had no say whatsoever about where it would end up?

  • Comment number 75.

    From Unite Statement to members on 2008 accounts,

    "Thirdly, a policy of enhancing Unite’s influence politically. While a fair amount has been achieved already in terms of influence with the current Government, the upcoming General Election and the revival of the Conservative Party mean that the process of reclaiming the Labour Party for workers needs to be accelerated. If nothing else, the recession has proven that New Labour’s wholesale adoption of laissez faire, unrestrained free market policies was simply wrong. We need to make sure that the Labour Party stands for fundamental re-regulation of the financial sector to ensure that the excesses of the past caused by the greed of bankers and other “masters of the universe” can never happen again and that future growth in the economy is built upon a sound
    basis of the quality products produced by hardworking men and women and not upon the growth of debt or financial speculation
    (which the bankers call “innovation”)."

    Would the same union members rush to pay political fund and £11m if they bothered to look at Unite accounts for 2008, latest available, which showed an annual loss of £18m and a pension defecit of £42m.

    As for "we are all in this together" ask Tony Woodley why when with TGWU section in 2007 him and Jack Dromey earned circa £26k and circa £60k from Unite and with Unite a year later earned circa £95k plus expenses. With Derek Simpson on even more for both years.

    With Unite now paying £30 a day dispute benefit from day 1 of disputes, in a protracted BA dispute that could make a big dent in funds of members.

  • Comment number 76.

    Nick your toryness is starting to show through,ever since you and Dave spent that weekend in afganistan.

  • Comment number 77.

    Also - there appear to be a lot of non-union members on here claiming to stand up for the interests of the union members by suggesting the money is being wasted or should not be given to the Labour Party.

    This is what the people who signed up to UNITE wanted. They know what UNITE is when they join and they get the option to pay to the 'political fund'.

    Where are the democratic ballots of all shareholders for companies that give money to the Tory party?

    I think everyone who is not a member of UNITE has nothing to complain about as its not there money and if your a member of UNITE and don't want to pay either contact the union to stop paying the political contribution or quit the union. Its your choice.

    Unions are democratic institutions run for the benefit of its members.

  • Comment number 78.

    Ron Bowdery wrote:
    "..In the Union subscriptions there is a small proportion set aside as a political fund. If an individual member wishes NOT to contribute to the political fund he or she can opt out and thereby obtain Union membership at a slightly lower rate.."

    Yeah right. The hoops I had to jump through to opt out when I was in a union some years ago.

  • Comment number 79.

    Some people have also commented that unions hold too much power...

    Maybe back in the 70's but can anyone really claim that now?

    Unions have declining membership rates and often little say in decisions made by large companies in offshoring large numbers of jobs overseas.

    They can still stand up for their members rights and interests in certain circumstances where they are treated unfairly but it has become increasingly difficult for trade unions since globalisation of the economy.

    The Trade Union movement has had to change and modernise to survive in the current climate and in many ways it is remarkable that it has.

    However, the members represented by UNITE have a right for their voice and support for the Labour Party to be given, as much as any ordinary member of the Tory party who pays his membership fees.

  • Comment number 80.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 81.

    Shame on you Nick, I know you were brought up a tory and remain one but even you must be fully aware of the difference between the regulated voluntary politcal levy paid for by hard working union members living and working in the UK, paying UK taxes and the fat cat creamed of monies of Lord Snooty showered over marginal constituencies from the tax free bank vaults of belize.

  • Comment number 82.

    plainspeak1 - they are free to say NO - and many do - UNITE is a large union that encompasses a great many members from businesses including many companies who you might traditionally call big business.

    For example, Barclays has a large section of its workforced which are UNITE members - do you think they are all Labour supporters?

    Many of them will have ticked the option to not provide the tiny amount of the subscription fee (less than a £1 I think) to the Labour Party as they my not have the same political opinions as the union. The vast majority of people will have given money because they wanted to.

    If you gave money because you didn't realise money would be given to the Labour Party when you signed up or didn't read the form properly then you are frankly to blame.

    Its not like they are conning anyone - UNITE are perfectly up front about their political affiliations. If you join a union and your a Tory who doesn't want to pay subs to the Labour Party then sureley you might check this out first?

  • Comment number 83.

    Why not come clean and tell us your true agenda.
    From the blogs that you manage to come up with the inference could be that you are a media mouthpiece for labour.
    I am sure I am not alone in wanting you to tell us the truth.

  • Comment number 84.

    Do you honestly believe you have a say?

  • Comment number 85.

    There is a side to this business that you are not reporting, Nick Robinson, and I'm beginning to wondering why.
    Why not ask the obvious question of why Walsh withdrew at the last minute the one offer that was a path to peace. Withdrawn when he knew that the Union were about to agree to it. (Walsh is thinking long-term - bite down on an unpopular strike now and screw as much as he can from the staff while he has the opportunity). Why not, in the interest of balance, did you not either ask why or, at least, report it?

    Why make the ludicrous comparison with Ashcroft and his contributions?

    You are not reporting facts fairly; you are making Tory propaganda, and some people are starting to wonder why. What is your agenda?

    Why did you make your earlier 'Churchillian' comparison sound as though it was Gordon Brown's idea when it wasn't? This is propaganda, Nick. you're planting seeds.

  • Comment number 86.

    Reply to Ron Bowdery, extract of what you wrote.

    "In the Union subscriptions there is a small proportion set aside as a political fund. If an individual member wishes NOT to contribute to the political fund he or she can opt out and thereby obtain Union membership at a slightly lower rate."

    I have just checked the Unite Union's website & it boasts 2M members & also states that the political fund contribution from each member is 61p per month. That means that UNITE are collecting £1.22M per year for the Labour party from it's members. They have given £11M since 2007 in 3 years but only collected £3.6M, where did the balance of £7.4M come from then.

    On the face of it, it seems Unite Union members are being ripped off by the very people that are supposed to be protecting them.

    At the very least, if I was a member I would be wanting answers to these questions, so glad I'm not.

    Can someone tell me what mandate this union has to override it's members wishes regarding political contributions, I would be intersted to know?

  • Comment number 87.

    Is it any wonder that the public is so disillusioned with the conduct of the Members of the Houses of Parliament. At one end of the scale you have MP's helping themselves to generous allowances and at the other 'donations' to individual parties to secure influence over the way we are all governed. We are still a long way yet from having an open democracy.

  • Comment number 88.

    62. At 6:48pm on 17 Mar 2010, Dave Manchester wrote:
    Yeah, Labours done great for the "ordinary working people" haven't they.


    Way to go, Dave - that told'em - Woohoo!

  • Comment number 89.

    #69 sagamix -linked to Unite, eh? No surprise really. But I would have thought someone of your talents would know better than to trot out the "over 2M members" rubbish. Unite's own website claims ~ 1.6M members, for ~150k of whom they do not have an address!

  • Comment number 90.

    Since when haven’t Labour candidates been tight with unions?
    The Tories seen to have gotten pretty personal about Whelan, Unite and Labour support.
    So think about this:
    - When’s the last time you heard a potential voter say, “By Golly, those unions are a big problem, especially that Whelan guy?”
    - When's the last time you heard a potential voter say, "By Golly, those non-domiciled party-contributors ought to be paying their fair share of the taxes what with all the mess we're in!"
    What are the journalists trying to say about Charlie Whelan, that he’s behind the BA strike, trying to make Brown look bad? That he should donate half the 11M to the Tories - just to keep up a fair appearance?
    To me, this situation seems like a tempest in a teapot.
    Anyway, since when is "Unite" such a great politcal force that it could determine an election one way or the other?

  • Comment number 91.


    Actually there are some things I like to pay more tax for - in comment #10 you have suggested reducing the licence fee to £50.

    That would devastate the BBC and lead to mass closures of Radio stations. TV channels would be cut - there would be less quality drama, comedy, sport, entertainment and of course fewer online services documentaries etc etc

    You would be making thousands of people redundant and destroying a much loved institution. (don't just trust my word but look at any survey of viewers on the BBC's content)

    Cameron and the Tories have been gradually floating this for a while - the suggestion that they'll attack the BBC and either give some of that money back to taxpayers or to independent broadcasters (or even Sky).

    Its all a nice way to keep the Murdoch BBC hating press happy and on side.

    My point is that not everyone wants to pay less tax. Yes we all want our taxes used wisely but I also believe that taxation can provide great benefits - like the BBC. I would gladly pay £200 a year for it because the quality compared to other broadcasters who charge much more is exceptional.

    If we had to pay insurance instead of pay tax for the NHS as many Tories have often proposed then we would get worse value for money and many people would not be covered.

  • Comment number 92.

    "15. At 5:18pm on 17 Mar 2010, gac wrote:
    I stupidly thought that the membership fees were mandatory although the portion to be given to Labour could be donated to charity instead. I also though that the vast amount was to provide for members if they were called out on strike."

    The stupid part is the belief that Trade Unions exist to go on strike. They exist to represent their members and its up to members if they want to actively engage in its democratic processes or just sit back and treat it as an insurance policy. Either way a TU reflects its members.

    Membership of a TU is not mandatory. Employees have a choice. If they choose to join the vast majority of the subscription is for members services: paying full time staff to represent them, negotiate for them, pay for legal advice, research information, campaign for them etc. This activity is entirely non-party political.

    Some unions (not all) have a political fund. Its a small subscription that is separately identified as a contribution to a fund that has particular purposes. This can be general political campaigning or party political donations etc. Members can opt out of paying it by contracting out.

    Members pay for their subscriptions out of taxed income and are entitled to do so if they want their Union to help fund a political party. Its cheaper than paying a full subscription.

  • Comment number 93.

    Is it possible that 'Lord Sleaze of Belize' is a major shareholder in BA?
    Can anyone tell me where I can obtain a list of BA shareholders?

  • Comment number 94.

    So let me get this right the Unite union is in hock (one assumes to a bank) to the tune of almost £38 million,so they have given money to NL that they have borrowed,that contradicts the political levy theory then !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 95.

    In 2005 some said : Vote Blair, get Brown.

    Will 2010 be : Vote Brown, get any one, or all of,
    Harriet Harman (with Jack Dromey in tow),
    Derek Simpson,
    Tony Woodley,
    Charlie Whelan,
    or put more simply, why not just say, Vote Brown, get Unite?

    Bizarre. It'a what we would expect from a banana republic. At least now we have the deficit of one.

  • Comment number 96.

    69 sagamix

    This is great ! I sawe Charlie Whelans interview, and I had no idea that things were this bad !

    Just like the 1970's all over again, stand by for a spring of discontent!

    Saga, get your kipper tie ready, you must be loving this !!!! Vote Labour-Unite, you know it makes sense !

  • Comment number 97.

    a vote every 10 years on which political party to bankroll is hardly what you call democratic !!!!!

  • Comment number 98.

    #64 IR35_Survivor

    I think your post is more than a little selective about history.

    I seem to remember the last Tory government ballooning debt to massive level as well as part of the ERM fiasco and to get us out of recession in the early to mid 90's - that was all just prior to the 1997 election.

    So in 1997 we had a massive debt that Labour then spent a number of years cutting so that it could have money to spend later.

    I think your probably just upset that it doesn't look like there will be a Tory landslide this time, despite a global recession coming along and kicking the economy down the pan as it did in the early 90's.

  • Comment number 99.

    Isn't this blog a subtle means of getting the Lord Ashcroft saga back on the board? Yawn, yawn, and yawn. There are plenty of problems out there to talk about - can't we put the Lib Dems under the microscope for a change?

  • Comment number 100.

    #78 ZZgrark (nice name)

    Well the hoops are very difficult.

    Membership for political contribution...tick form if don' want to do....sign form

    Very taxing... ;-)


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