Nick Clegg is in overdrive at the moment in his anti-union posturing. Yesterday he came out with this little gem in the House;
"Charlie Whelan and Lord Ashcroft are exactly the same. One is the baron of the trade unions, and the other one is the baron of Belize. Both are bankrolling political parties, both are trying to buy seats."Now, on one level, I wonder if this is part of a new strategy where he tries to diss everyone in society. First he does most of us by going for union members and the rich then perhaps he'll shout "And I hate cats too, bloody animals!" until he's slated every group with any support in the UK.
But more importantly, is it fair to say that Lord Ashcroft is just the opposite cheek of the same arse to Whelan? Are they "exactly the same"? It doesn't seem right to me.
- Ashcroft made his money exploiting people, Unite gets it money from the people it helps.
- Ashcroft is unaccountable to anyone, Unite is democratic and Whelan is accountable to it.
- Ashcroft is anti-union, Unite is pro-worker.
- Unite pays taxs, Ashcroft dodges them.
- Unite is open about it's money, Ashcroft isn't.
- Unite contributes to society, Ashcroft feeds off it.
- Unite is unable to influence Labour policy, Ashcroft is Tory deputy chairman.
Of course, there are problems with rich people using their vast wealth to bankroll parties to ensure society stays just as unequal as it always has been. The problem with union donations does not lie in the principle however.
It seems to me that the unions give millions to Labour and have seen precious little return on their money. Last year there was a survey of Unite members (pdf) which revealed that most unite members did not think the union should fund Labour, nor did most members even vote Labour, only one in three did, not much higher than those who voted Conservative.
There is a question over whether the enormous donations from the unions to Labour represent the will of the members and/or value for money but it's hardly true to say that Charlie Whelan, who is simply following union policy, is "the same" as Lord Ashcroft.