Letter: Why Labour will always need the unions; why it must let them go

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The Independent Online
Sir: In Andrew Marr's long-overdue comments about the influence of moneymen on the policies of the Tory and Labour parties (10 June), he failed to note that the character of both parties has changed with the nature of their backers, suggesting that a very unhealthy type of political patronage is indeed alive and well and undermining the democratic process.

There was a time when the bulk of Tory backers came from the landed and City gentry, people with an almost exaggerated sense of social justice and fair play, and the economic policies of the Conservative party by and large reflected this philosophy. As the post-big-bang City of London, in particular, has changed (for the worse) so the type of donor to the Tory party has changed (also for the worse). It is not that this money buys personal favours in the Tory party; it just infects its general philosophy.

The only significant change in the Labour party has been that as the unions have lost their potency so has the party, forcing the party leadership, if not the backbenchers, towards a welcome social democratic line. However, until John Smith can shake the union monkey off his back the electorate will not fully trust the change in political tack.

If anything I think Andrew Marr underestimates the distaste felt by the electorate for the chequebook politics of the Tories and of Labour (a distaste which I am sure contributed to the Liberal Democrats' surge at Newbury and in the county councils). A party not beholden to vested interests is far more likely to reflect the needs and wishes of the ordinary citizen.

Yours sincerely,

JAMES GIBSON-WATT

Hay-on-Wye, Powys

10 June

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