After the “cash for peerages" row, the New Labour party of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair is now deep in another scandal about dodgy funding from millionaires, one which has already brought a police investigation and forced the resignation of Labour Party general secretary Peter Watt.
As in the previous scandal, Labour Party treasurer (and TGWU deputy general secretary) Jack Dromey says he was kept in the dark about the donations made to the party through stooge intermediaries by businessman David Abrahams. According to BBC News, Peter Watt consulted the "officers of the National Executive Committee" before resigning, but the Executive as such has had no say in the matter.
The unions should certainly demand a thorough review. But by now it is like polishing a pigsty. The shady millionaire-funding connections date back to John Smith's period as Labour leader (1992-1994), and grew enormously in Tony Blair's first years, 1994-7, when millions of pounds in murky business donations were pumped into making the "private offices" of Blair and other New Labour leaders into more lavishly-staffed outfits than the Labour Party's own headquarters.
Those millionaire connections are now a way of life, not an aberration, for New Labour's top people.
The scandal has been used by the Tories and Gordon Brown to initiate a debate on party funding and reintroduce the idea of state funding of political parties. A government sponsored review on the issue — the Hayden-Phillips report — has been stalled. A report in 2006 recommended a £50,000 limit on political donations; which implied banning union affililiaions to political parties.
Brown has been able to effectively break the link by banning unions from putting political motions to Labour Party conference. But it looks as if proposals may come forward now which allow union affiliation money over the £50,000 limit, but ban any extra union donations. Such extra money may be “taxation without representation”, but such a ban would block union funding of a future, better workers’ party too.
Any idea that the New Labour gang can be straightened out by pressure and lobbying is an illusion. That is why socialists, and those unions which are prepared to make some political stand for working-class interests, and want to create a healthier political culture in this country, must now work to unite the left to build a new movement for working-class representation, drawing in local Labour Parties where they can.