GMB head feigns innocence over £1m Labour funding cut

Paul Kenny claims he's just doing what Miliband wants but his move was an unambiguous vote of no confidence in the Labour leader's reforms.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny chose to feign innocence when he arrived at Portcullis House for his meeting with Ed Miliband earlier today, the day after his union announced that it was cutting its affiliation fees to Labour from £1.2m to £150,000. "What's all the fuss over? All we're doing, if you like, is going towards what Ed says he wants," he remarked

But as Kenny knows, the objection is that he has pre-emptively disaffiliated 88% of the union's political levy-payers from Labour, rather than trying to persuade more to sign up once an opt-in system is introduced. It was an unambiguous vote of no confidence in Miliband's reforms.

In its statement yesterday, the GMB, the third-largest union, also warned of "further reductions in spending on Labour party campaigns and initiatives". For Labour, which relies on large one-off donations from the unions to fund its general election campaigns, it was an ominous threat. 

Privately, however, some in the party are more sanguine. They regard Kenny's move as a negotiating tactic designed to deter Miliband from reducing the unions' voting power in leadership elections and at party conferences. The GMB is not due to implement the funding cut until January, leaving Miliband wtih time to reach an agreement. But the dilemma is already becoming clear: does Miliband pursue comprehensive change and risk losing even more funding, or does he compromise and risk being accused of bottling reform? 

 

A GMB member protests outside parliament over cuts to public sector pensions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496