Regulating unions without touching business lobbyists is a joke
In the run up to the 2010 election, David Cameron made a speech about ‘broken politics’ and referred to lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. He talked about “the lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way”. He talked of “cronyism” and “crony capitalism”.
So no-one was surprised when the Government said it would introduce legislation for a statutory register of lobbyists and last year consulted on its plans. But there was widespread surprise when the Government dithered and kicked the Bill into the long grass, choosing not to include it in this year’s Queen’s Speech.
And yesterday we all raised our eyebrows at the Government’s baffling knee-jerk reaction to recent reports of a new cash for access scandal in Westminster, with No 10 briefing that there would now be a Bill in the summer. But what was even more peculiar about this announcement, which was in response to a scandal which didn’t even involve any lobbyists, was that the key point of the Bill now seemed to be to attack the influence and effectiveness of trade unions.
Nothing on corporate lobbyists buying influence. Nothing on cleaning up politics. Nothing on shining a light on the murky world and cosy relationships of crony capitalism – whether bankers or private healthcare providers.
This crack down on unions is even more misplaced when you consider that they are open, democratic and accountable organisations operating in a country which has some of the most restrictive union laws in all of Europe. It’s worth re-stating that union members are balloted on whether their unions should have a political fund, and members can opt out of paying toward any political levy, if a vote allows them to have one. In an already highly regulated world, unions are open and transparent and their purpose clear – to campaign for better pay and conditions for the constituents of every MP of every party across this country.
As Darren Hughes, director of campaigns and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“Regulating the unions without touching big business is a joke. This kind of tit-for-tat politics is why nothing ever gets done.”
In that 2010 speech, Cameron offered a skewed perspective when he said “politics should belong to people, not big business or big unions”. Skewed in that the wholly democratic trade unions represent over six million workers, while big business are in it for the money. The government’s proposed reforms will do nothing to rein in the interests of big business – but everything to limit the ability of unions to go about their legitimate, and transparent, day to day efforts to represent working people, their families and communities.