Galloway asks police to investigate Osborne

Forget Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand for a moment, and concentrate on another obnoxious pair: Gideon George Osborne and Peter Mandelson…

Respect MP George Galloway has today written to Sir Ian Blair (copy of letter below) asking him to investigate the possibility that shadow chancellor George Osborne has breached the law governing political donations in his admitted Corfu confab with Nathaniel Rothschild and others about how a Russian billionaire could help fund the Conservative Party.

Galloway expressed surprise that the authorities had been slow to take action on this matter and wondered if it was because those concerned constituted “what was left of the British establishment, albeit wintering in Corfu”.

In his letter to Sir Ian Blair, Galloway makes the point that in the “cash for honours” inquiry Scotland Yard waded in comprehensively, including interviewing the then Prime Minister under caution.

Galloway said today, “When I was suspended from Parliament last year I said that being lectured by the current House of Commons on the ethics of political fundraising was like being told to sit up straight by the hunchback of Notre Dame or taking lessons on good taste from Donald Trump.

“The Tory toff who made the complaint about me and the bicycling baronet Sir George Young who disposed of it have both been silent on the old Etonian Mr Osborne’s really quite transparent attempt to raise funds for the Tory party from a Russian oligarch who was clearly not permitted under the law to give the funds.”

Text of letter to Sir Ian Blair:

Sir Ian Blair
Commissioner, Metropolitan Police
Metropolitan Police Service
New Scotland Yard
Broadway
London
SW1H 0BG

29 October 2008

Dear Sir Ian,

I write on the subject of Gideon George Osborne MP and his admitted discussions in Corfu with Mr Nathaniel Rothschild and others on funding of the Conservative Party. It seems to me that these discussions may well have constituted an offence under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 Section 61 (Evasion of restrictions on donations) (1) paragraph b, in which it explicitly states that a person commits an offence “if he knowingly does any act in furtherance of any arrangement which facilitates or is likely to facilitate whether by means of any concealment or disguise or otherwise the making of donations to a registered party by any person or body other than a permissible donor.”

On Mr Osborne’s own admission he did so discuss with Mr Rothschild and others means by which funds provided by the Russian billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska (an impermissible donor to a British registered political party in every sense) could be channelled into the Conservative Party in evasion of the rules governing donations.

I am puzzled why what the Prime Minister described as “the appropriate authorities” have not yet acted on this matter. Is it because Mr Osborne and his wealthy friends constitute what remains of the “British establishment”, albeit wintering in Corfu. After all, Scotland Yard moved in comprehensively in other such cases, including, in the matter of allegations of “cash for honours”, interviewing the former Prime Minister under caution.

I am therefore writing to you to request that you institute police inquiries into the conduct of George Osborne on the basis that, prima facie, the 2000 Act has been breached giving rise to a criminal offence.

Yours sincerely,

George Galloway MP

GMB cuts Labour funding – but is there an alternative?

The Beeb reports:

The GMB union has voted to cut funding to a third of the 108 Labour MPs it sponsors, saying they have failed to back its policies.

It also said it would ask its 600,000 members if they wanted to reduce the £1.2m funding for the Labour Party.

The union discussed its links with Labour at its conference in Plymouth.

General secretary Paul Kenny said he had been “weighing” up the performance of MPs, who could lose up to £20,000 a year if funding is cut.

The union was no longer prepared to finance MPs who treated workers with “contempt”, he added.

‘Performance-related pay’

The vote came as fire-fighters, prison officers, teachers, civil servants and other public sector workers joined a TUC rally in Westminster to press the government to make sure their pay keeps up with the rising cost of living.

Outlining his members’ grievances, Mr Kenny said those targeted would be MPs who had failed to support union policies, had not responded to requests for help or had not engaged with local branches.

“The intention is not to cut funding overall; it’s to divert it to areas where frankly people are doing a job of work,” he told the BBC.

“The government is very keen on testing for everybody, performance-related pay, and we’ve applied in the GMB over the last 12 months exactly the same principle.

“We’ve examined the records of MPs both at local level and national level and many are doing a fantastic job, but there are a number who seem at times to be embarrassed by their relationship with the union.

“We don’t want to embarrass them by giving them union money.”

‘Frustration’

Instead the GMB plans to put more cash into encouraging its members to take more control over constituency parties so the union has more influence over party policies.

Mr Kenny also warned the union could scale down the size of its funding for Labour – although it has ruled out of order a motion urging the GMB to disaffiliate from Labour.

He said he expected there would be “huge anger” among delegates over policies on taxation, public sector pay, executive bonuses, social housing and other issues.

One motion called for the GMB to give an ultimatum as to whether to give continued support to Labour because of unhappiness about the so-called Warwick Agreement – the deal reached before the last election between unions and the party – has not be implemented in full.

Another motion said: “The congress notes with disgust the continuing failure of the Labour Government to adequately represent the interests of working people.”

The Labour Party has become more reliant on union funds as donations from individuals have dropped following the cash-for-honours row and falling opinion poll ratings.

The TUC rally comes after a survey of 2,100 adults suggested that most believe it is unfair for public sector workers to receive lower wage increases than staff in private firms.

In the past, Kenny has suggested that the GMB fund Plaid in Wales and the SNP in Scotland if there’s no change of course within Labour. But what of an alternative political party in England? The GMB, and the labour movement, is getting overtures from the Green Party:

“We need each other,” Green MEP tells trade unionists
9th Jun 2008

Caroline Lucas speech aims to unite environmental and labour movements

Green politics must involve trade unions to ensure that the response to climate change advances social justice and equality, Caroline Lucas MEP will tell activists at the GMB union’s annual congress in Plymouth today.

In a discussion on ‘climate change and jobs,’ Dr Lucas will argue that the labour and environmental movements need to work together to acheive their goals, and that the Green Party’s role is to unite the two.

Commenting ahead of the session, Dr Lucas said:

“More secure, fulfilling jobs; stronger communities; social justice. That’s the Green response to climate change. Panic, blame, and regressive taxes: that’s Brown.

“Not only is the Green response more desirable, it’s also the only one that can succeed. A zero-carbon world and a socially just one will happen together, or not at all.

“To acheive our goals, the labour movement and the environmental movement must realise that we need each other. The Green Party, with roots in both, is the ideal matchmaker.

“We need to work together to demand support for the renewables industry that could provide thousands of new, highly-skilled and secure jobs but is being neglected by government. We need to work together to make a warm, energy efficient home a right, and abolish fuel poverty. And we need to work together for an economy that exists for people, not the other way round.”

Brown is on probation

From Tribune:

‘On probation’ PM given two months to turn things round
June 6, 2008 12:00 am
by Chris McLaughlin

GORDON BROWN remains “on probation” as leader of the Labour Party with two months to turn the Government around before facing the prospect of a leadership challenge.

Amid deep and wide-ranging discontent welling up as the trade union conference season gets into full swing, one proposal being canvassed is a joint ticket of Health Secretary Alan Johnson for leader and backbench Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas for deputy. Neither is encouraging the plan and both are on record insisting that the party’s problems are not a matter of personalities. Mr Cruddas is also understood to have rejected overtures from former Home Secretary Charles Clarke for a new intra-party coalition to replace Mr Brown in order to avoid a catastrophic defeat at the next general election.

Although the mood among MPs calmed at Westminster after the recess and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, Mr Brown is faced with a series of heated rebellions from union conferences where members are calling for disaffiliation from the Labour Party unless a radical change of direction in Government policy begins to take shape soon.

Train drivers’ union ASLEF rejected calls for disaffiliation at its conference in Nottingham this week, the first major union gathering since the disastrous May Day massacre and by-election. The GMB and Communication Workers’ Union both debate calls next week for the financial link to be broken with Labour and Unison faces similar calls at its conference a week later.

Delegates at ASLEF’s conference set the tone of the growing discontent with Government policy. Andy Hudd from Oxford called for affiliation money “to support organisations and individuals who share ASLEF’s aspirations” – and this, he made clear, did not include “new” Labour. Although speaker after speaker condemned the drift from “the party of labour to the party of privilege’, it was felt it would be the wrong time to abandon the affiliation with “the party we invented”.

Guest speaker Alan Simpson said Gordon Brown has “until the end of the year to avoid the fall from the pier”. But other senior union officials and MPs believe that Mr Brown has until the end of July to stage a recovery before a challenge should be set in motion for Labour’s annual conference.

Leaders of the major unions are not pressing for a leadership challenge. However, the mood of dissatisfaction was summed up in a statement last week by the GMB’s Paul Kenny who warned Mr Brown that workers are “concerned and dismayed” at the current direction of the Government. Mr Kenny said many of his members did not understand why Mr Brown was not being more proactive in tackling problems such as the rising price of energy, accusing him of constantly reacting to events after they have happened rather than driving his own agenda.

He does not believe it is the time for Britain’s third largest union to “head off into the political wilderness” and believes the GMB will hold back from disaffiliation next week. But officials concede that it will require “deft footwork” to hold back the tide of feeling against the Government.

“I am not advocating disaffiliation, but I acknowledge there is widespread concerned and dismay about the direction, policies and lack of action by the Government. A lot of my members say the Government is reactive rather than proactive. They don’t understand why something hasn’t been done about the obscene City bonuses which have helped fuel the housing slump. The Government doesn’t appear to be addressing the basic issues.”

The GMB, like other unions, is angry over a proposal put forward by Justice Secretary Jack Straw in talks about party funding that the entirety of union political funds should go directly to Labour headquarters. Last year the GMB gave £1.4 million to Labour, £926,000 centrally and the rest to local parties or campaigns such as opposing the BNP or against the closures of Remploy factories, which is specifically against Government policy.

Mr Kenny said: “The Government is going down the wrong road and taking the wrong direction on this. There is no way we are going to concede the right to allocate cash to Gordon Brown and the party headquarters when not all our members support everything that the Government is doing.”

Unions are backing calls for fairer trade union rights, equal pay legislation, protection for workers in companies taken over by private equity firms and other measures ahead of the National Policy Forum meeting and talks with Downing Street next month.

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, told a meeting of the Amicus section activists in Brighton that it was time “new” Labour was consigned to the history books and called for policies to deal with inequality, housing shortages and the health service.

He said Unite would use its influence as Labour’s biggest financial supporter rather than issuing “hysterical and destabilising” threats of disaffiliation, warning that “even one term of a Tory government could prove impossible for the trade union movement to recover from.”

The Bliar Legacy: debt-ridden New Labour tells its MPs to cough up

No kidding:

The Labour Party is squeezing its MPs for money to stave off an imminent financial crisis.

MPs this week received letters demanding cheques for up to £2,200 each in personal contributions.

Although compulsory ‘donations’ are not new, MPs claim they are being pressed harder because of massive debts run up by Tony Blair and fundraiser Lord Levy to pay for the 2005 general election.

Senior MP Austin Mitchell commented: ‘It’s called ‘arrears’ for 2008/09.

‘But we’re only two months into that. They must be collecting all they can to pay off our £24 million short-term debt.

‘So we’re going to be dunned because Tony and Levy put us into a financial black hole. What a mess.’

A Labour spokesman confirmed that letters had been sent out but denied that the levy -equivalent to two per cent of salary -had been increased.

It said Mr Mitchell was sent a higher demand because he had fallen behind on paying last year’s levy. But writing on his website diary, the Great Grimsby MP said some backbenchers wanted to bale out their local branches rather than the national HQ: ‘We tried to give MP donations to our local parties.

‘With declining membership and so few councillors they’re bankrupt too. Our first priority is to help them.’

New Labour will be turning to the labour movement to beg for cash, but as Simon Basketter writes in this week’s Socialist Worker, “Unions shouldn’t pay Labour’s bill“:

Gordon Brown is attacking workers’ living standards while asking the unions to bail out the Labour Party. The rich backers who lent the party money now want it back.

In the next month Labour needs to come up with £7.45 million to pay off the loans from banks and wealthy businessmen secured by Lord Levy, or face insolvency.

The party is at least £24 million in debt. The members of the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) are all liable for the debts.

This has led the GMB union to indemnify its members on the NEC to protect them. In effect it has guaranteed the loans with union money.

The government’s desire for more union money has opened up a debate on the relationship between the unions and Labour.

Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of the Unite union, called for “New Labour” to be consigned to the history books at the union’s sector conference in Brighton this week.

He said, “It is not the differences between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair that are the problem. It is the similarities.

“For years the labour movement held its breath expecting change after the departure of Tony Blair. While we went blue from the lack of oxygen, the country has gone blue for the lack of social change.”

Destabilising

Despite his criticisms, Simpson added, “We’ll be using our influence as Labour’s biggest affiliate and its biggest financial supporter.

“Not by destabilising threats of removing financial support but rather through persuasion and demonstrating that our policies are popular with traditional Labour voters.”

Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB union, which has given £10.6 million to Labour since 2001, says his members are “increasingly frustrated” with New Labour.

Kenny said, “We need clear policy directives people can understand. We represent 600,000 people and their families. If you don’t listen to what they’re saying, you lose their vote.’’

Radical rhetoric aside, Brown is set to do his listening at Labour’s National Policy Forum in July, which is set to launch a “Warwick 2” agreement.

The 2004 Warwick agreement saw Labour make more than 50 pledges in return for £10 million from the unions.

Empty

The agreement sealed union support for the 2005 general election. It was supposed to provide the basis of a pro-union Labour third term.The promises proved empty then. They are likely to again.

Union leaders have hinted that they want rules on balloting for industrial action changed, companies to be legally obliged to carry out “equal pay audits” and workers in companies subject to private equity takeovers to have their rights protected.

But business secretary John Hutton has ruled out more legislation on workers’ rights.

Hutton said, “In future, beyond minimum standards, we must place increasing emphasis on government creating the opportunity for workers and businesses to work out what is best for their own circumstances.”

Chancellor Alistair Darling has also bowed to bosses over proposed minor changes to the taxation of foreign profits by agreeing to give a new forum of multinational executives “key input” into the proposals.

This will include Julian Heslop of Glaxo Smith Kline, and Douglas Flint of the HSBC bank.

While the government panders to every whim of business, trade unions are supposed to foot the bill.

Some 82 percent of Labour’s funding in the first three months of this year came from the unions. There is no reason to give any more without getting a great deal in return.

Instead of waiting for promises from Brown, unions should stand up for their members’ rights. The battle over public sector pay cuts is a vital focus.

As Kevin Courtney, of the NUT teachers’ union executive, told a fringe meeting at the UCU conference last week, “There is a fear among some about rocking the boat for Labour. But we should be demanding that other unions act now.

“We can’t avoid the argument about Labour. I don’t want a Tory government as I think that would be worse. But we only win things by fighting. We have to keep fighting against Labour to win our demands.”

PAY CUTS, RECESSION & RESISTANCE

This new Socialist Worker pamphlet explains why the bosses and the Bank of England expect workers to pay for their economic crisis, how Brown is attacking wages – and how pay freezes were beaten in the past

To order your copy phone 020 7819 1175

Corporate rats jump ship, but why are unions still funding New Labour?

From the FT:

Labour is more dependent on trade union funding than it has been for years after personal donations to the party in the first three months of this year collapsed to less than one tenth of their level for the same period of 2007.

In the wake of a series of funding scandals and the government’s political problems, only £203,869 was given by individual donors in the first quarter, compared to £2.23m for the first three months of last year.

The union contribution grew to 88 per cent of the total in the first quarter of 2008, compared with 52 per cent at the start of last year and just 30 per cent in early 2002, giving union leaders extra leverage in their discussions over the party’s next election manifesto. Union donations rarely account for such a high percentage of party funding save in the immediate run-up to a general election.

The unions are set to press for numerous concessions from the government during Labour’s national policy forum in July. These include a more progressive tax system, improved pension provision and the release of non-dangerous prisoners.

Labour is struggling in the opinion polls and suffered a defeat in this month’s local elections, where it came third behind the Liberal Democrats and lost the London mayoralty. Potential donors have also been put off by a series of funding scandals which have dogged the party.

The latest individual donation figures, published by the Electoral Commission on Thursday, represent a drop on the £601,391 raised in the fourth quarter of 2007, £2.87m from the third quarter (including £2m from Lord Sainsbury) and £1.49m from the second quarter.

As a result, Labour’s dependence on union support has became even more pronounced. It raised a total of £3m in the first quarter of this year, the bulk of which was from Unite, the super-union, and other unions including Unison, GMB, Usdaw, CWU and Ucatt.

The Conservatives once again raised more money than the party of government, filing £4.2m of donations to the Electoral Commission.

The gap between the two parties would look even larger if donations to Ken Livingstone’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign were not included in the Labour figures.

Labour, which was founded by the unions, has always depended on their financial contributions to some degree. But the relationship is now more important than ever as private and corporate donations to the party dry up. Companies gave £66,625 to Labour in the first quarter.

The party has £18m of debt, prompting speculation about its financial stability. Chief fund-raiser Jon Mendelsohn is in talks with the millionaires who controversially lent more than £10m in the run-up to the 2005 election to delay repayment.

GMB to disaffiliate from Labour over party funding changes?

From the Guardian:

Labour is facing a fresh party funding row over proposals that would give it control over hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra funds raised from union members.

The plans have so incensed one of the UK’s biggest trade unions that it has threatened to cut its ties with the party, the Guardian has learned. The GMB – the third largest union in Britain and one of the party’s biggest donors – has said it will ballot its members if the new proposal to change the way unions contribute to Labour is included in a white paper on party political funding to be published next month.

The row centres on plans floated by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, said to be backed by Gordon Brown, to insist that all the money raised by 4 million trade unionists affiliated to Labour is paid directly to party headquarters.

The proposal would boost Labour’s coffers at the party’s cash-strapped HQ by millions of pounds and strip union leaders of the power to decide how they allocate the cash to local parties. It would also reduce the unions’ autonomy to spend the money on other campaigning issues, including fighting the BNP. Another of the country’s big unions, Unison, is also understood to be unhappy about the plans.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said: “The government is going down the wrong road and taking the wrong direction. There is no way we are going to concede the right to allocate their cash to Gordon Brown and the party headquarters when not all our members support everything that the government is doing. Not all our members support the Labour party and they would not stand for their money being used in this way. They would want us to disaffiliate if the government insists on doing this.”

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: “This proposal will be opposed by MPs and rank-and-file members across the Labour party. It gives Labour party headquarters the right to take over control of all trade union money and is unacceptable.”

Returns from the Electoral Commission for last year show that the GMB gave £1.4m to Labour. Some £926,000 was paid directly to party HQ but in addition, the union gave nearly £500,000 to local constituencies or Labour local government campaigns such as in Brighton and Hove. Under the new proposals, that sum would go straight to Labour HQ.

Kenny estimates Labour would stand to gain up to £750,000 a year from the GMB alone. Some of the money the union spends is specifically targeted at campaigns against government policy, such as the closure of Remploy factories.

New Labour nadir: “reformers”, fund managers, and bankers

Right. More on the theme: “New Labour and the Tories? New Labour are Tories!”.

1. “Gordon Brown says there will be no going back on the public sector changes introduced by Tony Blair.

“Writing in the Financial Times, the prime minister says Wednesday’s Budget will begin a new chapter in reform.

“Although no new policies are revealed, he hints there could be more money for education with a commitment to improving 600 worst-performing schools.” [BBC]

2. “City fund manager David Pitt-Watson is to be Labour’s new general secretary.

“Mr Pitt-Watson, 51, has worked in the City since a two-year stint as Labour’s assistant general secretary, responsible for finance, ended in 1999.

“He is expected to step down as chairman of Hermes Equity Ownership Services. Hermes is a Northern Rock shareholder.

“Mr Pitt-Watson, understood to have been Gordon Brown’s favoured candidate, will replace Peter Watt, who quit in the row over Labour’s donations by proxy.

“Mr Pitt-Watson had argued publicly for the government to pursue a private sector solution to deal with Northern Rock, which has now been taken into public ownership.” [BBC]

3. “[I]t was announced that former Goldman Sachs banker Jennifer Moses is to start as a Downing Street adviser.

“Ms Moses was working as a managing director at Goldman Sachs when her personal assistant stole more than £1m from investment accounts belonging to her and her husband Ron Beller.

“Her role at Number 10 has not yet been defined, but her appointment will be seen as an attempt to beef up Mr Brown’s inner circle in the wake of last autumn’s crises and negative media coverage.” [BBC]

In summary: Brown says he’s more Blairite than Bliar, a city fund manager becomes the general secretary of the “Labour Party”, and a banker who didn’t notice an employee pilfering a million quid gets an unspecified job (a sinecure) at Number Ten.