Cabinet fight over trade unions and lobbying

Jane Merrick

The Cabinet Office has just published its long-awaited consultation document on lobbying, which brings yet more bad news for the unions, as The Independent on Sunday revealed last weekend: they could be listed on a new register of lobbyists, because of the influence they have over the Labour Party.

There’s been a Cabinet tussle over how hard the language should be about union lobbyists. Eric Pickles, who as our story said last week also wanted town hall lobbyists to be included, wrote to Ken Clarke, George Osborne and Vince Cable earlier this month calling for tougher language on the unions.

In his letter, which I’ve seen, Pickles wrote that the draft consultation document left the question of union lobbyists as “open-ended”: He wrote: “In the interests of transparency, there is a very strong case for all trade unions with political funds to be required to register, as their political activity by definition is seeking to influence the political process.”

The published document still leaves the trade union issue open-ended:

Trade unions may have an interest in government policies or other issues of the day. It is not unusual for
trade unions to campaign on behalf of their members in favour of particular public policies. Some trade
unions maintain a political fund. This is a separate account which the trade union can use to provide
financial support for a political party. For example, they could donate to a party or particular politician,
produce leaflets in support at an election, or support any party conference costs.
• Should Trade Unions be required to register? If so, how might this be captured in the definition
of lobbying or lobbyist?

…yet does raise the issue of “political funds”, suggesting Pickles has scored a victory of sorts.

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