The appearances of Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown at the TUC conference have illustrated clearly what we already knew: the Labour Government is not a friend of the Trade Union movement, even if many Labour MPs are. Maybe a Labour Government can't be. Maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe a government of any colour, functioning properly, should be a kind of Solomon-esque father arbitrating between the vested interests of the nation, siding neither with the working man and woman nor business.
The problem we have here, though, is that the Labour Government doesn't stand apart from the fray like a wise and indulgent father. It tends to side with business, just like Tory governments do. And yet Labour are partly funded by massive investment from the unions.
I think the time has come to ask whether this benefits the unions anymore, if it ever did. Perhaps we should now consider removing funding from Labour and putting it into building our own cause independently through promotion, education and public works. If the money we are pouring into Labour provides us with no useful return (we haven't even seen Thatcher's anti-union legislation repealed since Labour came to power eleven years ago), why do we keep pouring?
To provide balance, you might say, to the political scene. Perhaps that would have been true at one time, but now Labour and the Tories are trying to occupy the political centre ground, where is the real difference between them?
On the back benches, you might say. And you'd be right. On the Labour back benches there are a large number of genuinely pro-union, pro-working man, traditional Labour minds. But because of the ineptitude and lack of conviction shown by the Government, most of them look set to lose their seats at the election anyway.
Suppose withdrawal of union funds caused the Labour Party to collapse (if the catastrophe of the next election doesn't). Would that matter? True, there is a proud history in the party. Great men (Bevan, Benn, Michael Foot) have stood under its banner and great things (such as the National Health Service) have been given to the country and the world by Labour.
But it ceased to be that party a long time ago, probably around the time John Smith died and opened the door to New Labour; and the disappearance of Labour as was didn't wipe its achievements from history. They will lay there for rediscovery by new generation for as long as there is history.
And those men who still stand for the traditions--for what is right and just for the ordinary working man and woman--won't cease to exist if the party they currently represent (somewhat bogusly given the nature of its leaders)ceases to exists. Let them run as independents, funded if it's appropriate by unions in their locality, or anybody else whose interests they genuinely defend.
They might even do a lot better at the polls, freed from the taint of hypocrisy and compromise laid on them by association with the fellows who are currently (but not for long it seems) following their advisers and PR men down the corridors of power.