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Nick de Bois: Union members should be able to give their polical levy to the Tories or the TaxPayers' Alliance

Deboisnick Nick de Bois is the Parliamentary Candidate for Enfield North. He fought the seat in 2001 and 2005. Father of four, Nick is also MD of Rapiergroup, an international marketing events company.

More than two decades on from Conservative governments' taming of the unions' destructive power to hold the country to ransom, it is time we took away their power to read their members' minds.

It is easy to pretend that all trade unionists vote Labour – and this week in Brighton, union leaders will certainly try to act as the conscience of Old Labour. But that is not the case now – the last polling says that a quarter of union members would vote Conservative if an election were held tomorrow - and it was not the case previously either. We would do well to remember the politically-neutral stance of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers during the miners' strike for example.

So it is all the more wrong that we still allow union leaders to misrepresent their members' opinions, and to apportion part of their subs to support a party – Labour - for which many of them will not vote.

That is why the unions' 'political funds' must change. Because as they stand right now, they are the embodiment of career trade unionists' disdain for their members' views –and the militants' political weapon of choice.

Let me say something that Conservatives do not always say: It is right that trade unionists should be able to opt-in to a political levy. Trade unions have become more than just bargaining collectives –and so long as their members are happy with that, then we too should accept it. But it is a throwback to the 1960s that anyone wishing their union to lobby for change should be forced to do it via Labour alone.

This all-or-nothing approach is a faint echo of the 'you're with us or you're against us' attitude of the past. It fails to reflect the fact that we live today in an age that is far more concerned with causes, and far less with rigid party lines. The days of political parties having millions of members between them has gone. We now live in a country where pressure groups, charities and campaigning organisations have at least as much relevance as political parties.

So here is a proposal. Keep the political levy– on a voluntary, opt-in basis of course. But allow individual members to decide which political party should receive their individual subscription –and apportion it accordingly. And go further than that –allow individual members to give their donation to a vastly wider range of organisations, too. Pressure groups such as Liberty or the TaxPayers' Alliance could be beneficaries, or charities such as Help The Aged, Cancer Research UK or The Royal British Legion.

That way we could complete the work begun in the 1980s and let Union members have the final say on where their hard earned money is allocated.


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