If you want to know why a significant number in Labour remain sceptical of Ed Miliband’s plan to reform trade union funding, you just need to look at the latest political donation figures. In quarter two, affiliated unions were responsible for 77 per cent (£2.4m) of all donations to the party, with Labour receiving just £354,692 in individual donations, £2,506,590 less than the Tories and £32,537 less than the Lib Dems (although it’s worth remembering that the Electoral Commission only publishes donations over £7,500, so smaller sums are excluded). Unite was the largest donor (£772,195), followed by the GMB (£485,830), UNISON (£458,080), USDAW (£411,137) and the CWU (£143,121).
It’s figures like these that prompt union general secretaries, such as the GMB’s Paul Kenny and the CWU’s Billy Hayes, to ask just how Labour intends to make up the huge shortfall that will inevitably result from the introduction of an opt-in system for donations from union members. At present, if around 10 per cent of the current 2.7 million levy-payers choose to affiliate themselves to the party (the estimate used by Labour officials), the party will see funding fall from £8m to less than £1m. It’s likely that Labour will increase the £3 affiliation fee but unless it also widens its donor base it will go into the election at a significant disadvantage.