There is no comparison between the trade unions and Michael Ashcroft

The bogus comparison between union donations and the Tory peer's millions.

In an attempt to divert attention away from the Ashcroft scandal, the Conservatives and their allies in the media are today attacking Labour's financial links with the trade union movement, most notably Unite.

It's no secret that Labour has become increasingly reliant on the trade unions for money as donations from rich commercial interests and individuals, who bankrolled the party throughout the Blair years, have dried up. I first reported on this back in January and predicted that Labour's financial dependence on the unions would become a campaign issue.

The brothers were responsible for 64 per cent (£9.8m) of all donations to the party last year, with Unite, Britain's biggest union, accounting for 25 per cent (£3.6m). By contrast, when Tony Blair became Labour leader in 1994, the unions accounted for less than a third of all donations.

It's never healthy for a party to become reliant on only a few sources of income, and I'd be surprised if any Labour figure argued otherwise.

But what is unreasonable is for the party's opponents to then suggest that Labour's reliance on the unions is a scandal comparable to that of Lord Ashcroft's donations to the Conservatives.

After reading Rachel Sylvester's column in today's Times, "In the red corner: Labour's answer to Ashcroft", you could be forgiven for assuming that Unite's political director, Charlie Whelan, alone controls his union's donations to Labour.

In fact, the donations are taken from Unite's political fund, to which 1,291,408 members contribute voluntarily. As Will Straw points out, this works out at just under £3 per member per year since March 2007.

There is no comparison to be had between this democratic funding system and the millions the Tories received from Ashcroft, a man who has sat in the legislature for nearly a decade without having the decency to become a full UK taxpayer. The scandal of either Ashcroft misleading the Tories, or the Tories misleading us, does not deserve to end with a whimper.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about Whelan's apparent return to the fold (not a wise move on Gordon Brown's part), but the bogus comparison between the unions and Ashcroft doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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