Opinion: Nick Clegg lays into Labour links to unions

Here’s a superb clip of Nick Clegg in full, passionate flight as he attacks Sadiq Khan regarding links with the GMB union. There is some background to this story on order-order.com here.

Here’s the exchange in full from Hansard:

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has previously endorsed the long-held convention that issues of party funding should—as he has just said—be resolved by cross-party agreement when that is possible. He has told us that the Committee on Standards in Public Life will report shortly: in fact, it will report next week. Is he concerned about the objections from the chairman of the Conservative party to the £10,000 cap proposed in the draft report, and is he worried about the possibility of a situation similar to that which arose in 2007 when the Conservatives walked away from the opportunity to secure a cross-party agreement? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. It would help if there were not so much noise from Whips on the Treasury Bench, so that the Chair could hear what was being said. Questions must be orderly. The Deputy Prime Minister will answer that which is orderly, and not that which is not.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman’s question was written by the GMB, because I hear that Opposition Front Benchers have got into the habit of asking their union paymasters what questions they should ask and what amendments they should table. If that happened in any other political party, Labour Members would say that it was an absolute scandal. We know that the trade unions can speak for themselves; it is time that we knew whether the Labour party can think for itself.

Paul Walter blogs at Liberal Burblings

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This entry was posted in Parliament.


  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 16th Nov '11 - 6:34pm

    Thanks for the endorsement Zadok! I am not a member of the LibDemVoice editorial team, hence the “Opinion” tag to make that clear.

  • What’s so superb about that? It’s just another politician trying to deflect criticism of his own party by launching an attack on his opponents.

    Sorry – I should have said trying to deflect criticism of the _Conservative_ party …

  • David Boothroyd 16th Nov '11 - 8:50pm

    So you’re celebrating the fact that Nick Clegg totally failed to give an answer and in fact ignored the question he was asked, but instead rattled off the same tired old Tory lines based on the unsupported theory that trade unions are in some unspecified way an insidious evil? If that’s what you want to celebrate, please throw a party. We’ll call it the Tory Party.

  • Simon McGrath 16th Nov '11 - 9:00pm

    Just imagine if we or the Tories had admitted we didn’t know how we were going to vote on something until we had got the views of a Donor.

  • I hate to say it but I agree with David. This is an example of Parliament at its absolute worst.

    When we talked about real change to the way we do politics I assumed we’d be able to do something about this sort of thing at least.

  • @Hwyel, I think that is rather unfair, especially if you see it in the context of the whole Q&A and the infinitely patient and full responses Nick has given and continues to give.
    @Simon – good point

  • Foregone Conclusion 16th Nov '11 - 10:43pm

    Clegg has a point… but it has nothing to do with Khan’s question. Quite surprised by how ill at ease he seemed though.

  • I wonder if Clegg has worked out the effect of Labour bashing. It will certainly keep the tactical vote at home but never mind it will please his spiritual brothers in the Tory party.

  • benjamin……………David, unions are certainly not an insidious evil. What they do is not evil, it is what they are for – they lobby on behalf of their members. And it is certainly not insidious – it is as clear as the nose on my face that the Labour Party is bought and paid for by the trade unions…………

    Worthy of the most rabid ‘Rightist’ Tory. After this opening statement, dismissing Labour as TU puppets (a view so outdated as to need no rebuttal), you try and explain how unions are the enemy of the low paid and the vulnerable in the workforce…..

    Which shade of Liberalism does that reflect?

  • Singing that old Tory tune may excite the more atavistic activists but it has little resonance with the wider electorate who tend to have a less frosty relationship to reality. We’ve just had 13 years NuLiebore (or however the witless wits on the eyeball rotating right refer to them these day) and I didn’t notice much in the way of beer and sandwiches
    at No. 10. That the Tories are little more than the political wing of the City of London is a far more potent charge, well evidenced by the extraordinary decision of the Coalition to kick the Vickers report eight years down the road. As for Clegg, I thought it had been impressed upon him that acting as the Tories attack poodle isn’t going to win back the 4 million or so voters who have abandoned the party but it seems he’s reverting to his hug a Tory masterplan.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Nov '11 - 2:58pm

    Nick Clegg’s ‘shot’ was a nice knockabout opening riposte. I would, however, like to see a proper answer to Sadiq Khan’s question.


    “you try and explain how unions are the enemy of the low paid and the vulnerable in the workforce…..”

    You only have to look at how they treat their membership: ‘mushroom management’, I think it’s called:


  • Steve Comer 17th Nov '11 - 8:58pm

    Nick didn’t ‘lay into Labour’ at all. He indulged in the usual pointless Westminster yah boo politics of the sort that turns off the vast majority of ordinary voters. As a lifelong Liberal and Trade Unionist I found this totally depressing.
    It was a straight question from Sadiq Khan, and Nick could have answered it well, especially given the Lib Dem stance on party funding where we have always sought to get an agreement.
    Never mind who wrote Sadiq’s question, who wrote Nick’s answer?

  • The Unions of-course used to back the Liberal Party and in its day put plenty of money behind them until it realised that they were not interested in really helping the working classes. It was at that point that they helped develop a new political party which would stand up for working people although it never delivered all that it had hoped for. The link with the unions is something Labour should retain and be proud of. Unions do a good job and it shows just how much the LD’s have moved since the coaltion that they are now seen as something that must be destroyed. Indeed that is where we are heading because this government believes it must destroy organised labour to drive down wage costs and benefits to increase profitability. Once again Clegg shows his true position on the great issues of the day and his own prejudices. A man who has never had to struggle in life with making ends meet or worrying about his mortgage or rent, born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

  • Dave Eastham 18th Nov '11 - 7:54am

    A very disappointing and juvenile response from Nick to Sadiq Khan’s question. Never mind the alleged writing of a question by the GMB, it would appear that Nick is having his answers written by Guido Fawkes the blogger, whose own political affiliations are hardly neutral.

    Trade unions have to varying degrees, research departments that again, in varying degrees, can produce expert advice on the technical aspects of issues at hand. If the GMB research department produced a briefing that was of some use in framing (what seems to me) a pertinent question, then all well and good. Don’t tell me the Tories are squeaky clean over the lobbying sources of some of the question they ask. Pots and kettles spring to mind.

    The funding of political parties is a very important issue in the UK democracy. For too long the Tories have attempted to use legislation to undermine the funding of the Labour Party, (and yes the mechanisms by which unions donate political funding, could be improved both in it’s transparency and democratic accountability), whilst trying to preserve the sources of their own funding, which historically has been somewhat less than transparent.

    They did walk away from the previous round of cross party talks, when they perceived that they were going to be affected as well.

    Instead of indulging in fourth form schoolboy playground parliamentary knock about, Nick should have just answered the question. I thought the Lib Dems going into coalition was supposed to be part of a new political agenda and keeping some sort of leash on the more rabid Tory lunacies in Government. Far from being “superb” I thought Nick’s response was profoundly depressing. I fear the lessons of history regarding the pitfalls of coalition government are not being heeded.

  • Dave Eastham 19th Nov '11 - 9:54am

    @ Gareth

    Ah but it does matter. Simply parroting the old Tory press rubbish about how the Labour Party is in thrall to Union funding, that nobody on the Labour front bench says anything without phoning up GMB Central or whatever and if they don’t, then Union members don’t seem to be getting value for money and should ask for their money back, simply won’t do.

    Firstly, Trade unions are not the only people that the Labour party accept support from. Both in government and in opposition the Management Consultants are crawling all over their offices “advising” them. Donations “in kind” , all declared in the proper way in Parliament of course, not simply handing over Union Political fund cash and hoping for the best. (You don’t have to go far to see this, the latest edition of Private Eye page 8 for a start). A much more insidious process in my book.

    Secondly, all all the donations from the Unions come from the “Political” Funds which are completely separate from general funds legally and are voluntary, you can opt out of paying them. Although granted, there are not inconsiderable issues around the transparency of the whole process – but that’s another story. Not all Unions with political funds are formally affiliated to the Labour party and the use to which “political” funding is put is defined in various laws. Union political funding is not just used for funding the Labour Party. A number of other activities are defined to be “Political” and are required to be funded from the Political fund. A restriction that does not apply to company donations or activities incidentally.

    Go see “The Osborne Judgment 1909: trade union funding of political parties in historical perspective” http://www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-96.html for an appreciation of the origin of Trade Union political funds and Political party donations. Walter Osborne was a Liberal trade unionist and he certainly ruffled a few feathers in his day, including the Leaders of the Liberal Party at the time.

    Liberal Democrats have always been highly critical of the yah-boo knock about between the “two old parties”. Liberal Democrats have always said that they would like to see these sort of exchanges consigned to the past, as they often detract from very serious issues. The funding of Political Parties in our democracy being a case in point.

    We went into Coalition, firstly, despite the Labour Party’s continual attempts to re-write history, there was no choice, and it was to try to get Liberal Democrat policies on the statute book. Coalitions in the UK have a very chequered history and have at various times been the undoing of both the Liberals and the Labour Party (and to a lesser extent, sadly, the “Teflon” Tories). If we do not learn the lessons of History we will be certainly electorally condemned. We all knew what risks there were when embarking on this. Remember, the LD Constitutional “ Triple Lock” was complied with in all three parts of the process when the decision was made.

    It would have done no harm just for Nick to have answered the question. Instead he indulged in a bit of juvenile Parliamentary “Theatre”, A profoundly depressing response over what is a very serious issue; and all based on what can only be a lazy acceptance of Tabloid (and Tory bloggers) myths about the relationship between the Trade Unions and the Labour Party. I would have hoped a Lib Dem Party Leader to be better than that.

  • Beveridge-Keynes 22nd Nov '11 - 12:59am

    There are many Conservative Lib Dem marginals where the Labour Candidate does not stand a chance. Up till now the bulk of this Labour vote has gone to the Lib Dems to keep the Tories out. Clegg’s attacks on Labour will lose that vote and I expect Lib Dem MPs in these marginals will suffer losses as a result of Clegg’s unrelenting attacks on Labour.

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