By Peter Hoskin
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There is, according to the Telegraph’s Matthew Holehouse, a bit of a to-do going on in the constituency of Harlow. The local Trades Union Council is motioning against Labour’s candidate for the next election, a Unite-backed party advisor called Suzy Stride. As Holehouse reports, they’ve taken to calling her “Silent Suzy” on account of her… well… silence on a range of issues that matter to them. And they even contrast her unfavourably with the serving Tory MP, one Robert Halfon. “We are deeply concerned that we have received far more support from Conservative MP Robert Halfon on the issues of trade union facility time and job losses at Comet and Tesco than we have from Suzy,” says one. Unite’s political director has subsequently attacking this viewpoint as “unacceptable”.
CCHQ's main reason for not releasing the number of members who voted to select candidates for the European elections is that the Board hasn't agreed to do so. This doesn't mean that it made a specific decision not to release the figure: merely that since it has not been released during previous European elections, there's a presumption that it shouldn't be issued after this one. More widely, CCHQ pleads the usual difficulties in citing a membership figure - namely, that the Party hasn't a centralised structure; that local Associations don't always have up to date figures, and that this difficulty is compounded by their unwillingness to risk entering data into Merlin - and thus risk losing it in cyberspace.
To recite these excuses is to grasp at once how flimsy they are. Just because the voting figure in the European elections wasn't released last time round is no reason not to release it again. And CCHQ could easily get a wider estimate of membership from each local Association. No, the reason that no figure has been released is that Downing Street is too embarrassed to do so. As the Times points out this morning, 253,600 members voted during the 2005 leadership election. Membership is now estimated to have fallen to about 130,000, and the actual figure may be lower. UKIP's membership is reported to be as high as 40,000. One should be wary, since it has the same interest in puffing its own number than any other party, but there can be no doubt that its support has grown. The gap between the two figures is not unbridgeable.
Continuing enquiries about membership are undoubtedly an embarrassment for Downing Street and CCHQ. This morning, they would rather that the media - and ConservativeHome - focus on the appointment of Jim Messina, Barack Obama's campaign manager last time round, to help with the 2015 election campaign. However, CCHQ's refusal to release figures and its glee over Messina's appointment only serves to highlight the nature and scale of the problems facing the Party, and the coincidence of the two taking place at the same time is highly illustrative. It is always easier to think short-term (about how to win the next election) than to plan for the medium-term and longer (about how to build a growing voluntary Party). Time and time again, CCHQ has been crammed with staff and money for election campaigns...and been left bare afterwards.
By Mark Wallace
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To say the trade unions have been in the news recently is an understatement akin to saying Norman Tebbit is a bit right wing. The Falkirk scandal, the further revelations about wider union power and Ed Miliband's attempt to stem the crisis have all seen the Conservatives hammering Labour on charges of dodgy dealings and weakness in the face of union bosses.
That's all well and good. Miliband deserves to be given a hard time on the topic, Unite's actions in Falkirk were clearly wrong and there is plenty of electoral hay to be made by making Labour pay the full price of the scandal.
But this should be the beginning of Tory campaigning in relation to the unions, not the end.
Two important facts have come up again and again in recent weeks. The trade unions have 6.5m members - and a large slice of them vote Conservative. The mass membership of the union movement, while a much smaller proportion of the workforce than in the past, is still a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Given that significant percentages are Conservative sympathisers, and an outright majority are no longer Labour voters, some Tory voices are starting to wonder if there is more to life than attacking the unions.
Ed Miliband displays what child psychiatrists call a "pattern of behavior". Confronted with a problem he can no longer avoid, he moves late and does little, a response that voters have seen again and again. First on immigration, then on welfare, then on borrowing, he has half-closed the door on Labour's respective problems - wanting to let in lots of immigrants, soak taxpayers for lots of welfare, and borrow lots of money on the never-never - thereby inviting his left and the unions to push it open again. "Weak weak weak" comes the cry and the briefings from Downing Street and CCHQ, and they are as right as they are repetitious.
His speech today on Labour and the unions offers more of the same. No-one anywhere - not Polly Toynbee, not Owen Jones, not Laurie Penny - believes he would be making it were he not in a hole and trying to dig himself out. It follows that the proposals in his speech won't have been thought through, and that as an answer to Labour's problems it will only pose further questions. These will duly be asked by Grant Shapps, Dan Hodges, this site and many others, keeping the Unite story on TV and in the headlines as the summer days stretch gloriously on.
By Andrew Gimson
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The Prime Minister gets more brutal by the week. Untroubled by any sense that he might be demeaning his office, he sets out to beat the living daylights out of Ed Miliband. It is not a pretty sight, but I suppose the Prime Minister could say he is just respecting our adversarial tradition of politics.
Mr Cameron enjoys being adversarial. Every so often he cannot refrain from giving a quick flash of amusement at some particularly cruel remark he has made. Today these were almost entirely devoted to suggesting that Mr Miliband is the helpless prisoner of Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite trade union.
Mr McCluskey got dragged into everything. Here, too, one might say Mr Cameron is demonstrating his respect for tradition. The Tories used to love suggesting that Labour was in the pocket of the trade unions, and here was Mr Cameron perpetuating this accusation thirty years after Margaret Thatcher broke the unions' power.
Miliband managed to defend himself for a minute or two by asking about the troubles in Egypt. In justice to Mr Cameron, it should be recorded that he at least did not blame what is happening in Cairo on Mr McCluskey. The Prime Minister told us the Foreign Office was advising "against all but essential travel" to Egypt "except for the Red Sea resorts", and for a moment we feared he was going to make some tasteless joke about how at home Mr McCluskey would feel in a resort of that political complexion.