Before lunch I attended an amusing Tory event designed to reinforce the impression that Labour has reverted to Old Labour. Theresa Villiers, Eric Pickles and Michael Gove were our hosts – ironically at Transport House, former home of the T&G.

Some of the language was delightfully ripe, with Gove suggesting that Charlie Whelan had “unleashed the forces of hell” on families wanting to fly abroad over Easter. “I would never go as far as calling Charlie Whelan an ‘aggressive hooligan’, ‘serial killer*‘ or ‘killing machine’ – but then, civil servants and senior Labour figures have already said that,” said the shadow education spokesman. He also described a “second Mesozoic era, with a succession of dinosaurs trooping through Downing Street.”

But does Gove’s main premise stack up? Read more

First things first. I don’t want to underestimate the importance of Unite to Labour, and the extent to which it holds sway financially. (And again I’d recommend this column in the Times.)

Unite has given an enormous £11m to Labour since it was formed in 2007 – of which £3.5m was given last year. It has also stood in between the party and financial disaster by agreeing to keep backing it in the future. The party leadership has to listen to the barons – although their influence over policy is still not always clearcut. Read more

I reported this morning that the unions are up in arms about an imminent pay freeze announced today. The three unions representing about 1.5m council workers want a 2.5 per cent rise – the employers have offered zero.

But how hard are Unison, the GMB and Unite going to fight this one? Read more

Britain’s biggest union will get its first solo leader next autum and the result could be significant for British politics – because Unite the Union is by far Labour’s most generous donor.

The curious rumour reaches me that Jack Dromey (husband of Harriet Harman) could soon emerge as a surprise candidate. Currently a deputy general secretary of Unite, Dromey is an ardently loyal Labour figure who would ensure a seamless transition. He would not rock the boat. Read more

The “macro” story on donations today (Electoral Commission figures for Q3 are out) is that the Tories received £5.27m in donations – more than the other 17 parties combined. Labour got just over £3m (mostly from unions) while the Lib Dems received £816,663.

A trawl through the Tory donors is interesting in terms of individual gifts:
 Read more

The Tories this week demanded the suspension of what they have described as a “slush fund” for the unions: the union modernisation fund.

The government and the unions see the fund differently; it is designed to support “innovative” projects which improve union efficiency. Read more

The GMB and Unison are denying that they are in talks to form a new super-union to rival Unite for scale and influence. Both have large public sector membership and there is obvious overlap.

The denials are strange because I thought I heard officials openly discussing the issue last night. Admittedly, it was late, and beer had been drunk. Even so. I’ve had a true story denied by a union before: it happens.

Derek Simpson, co-chief of Unite – Britain’s biggest union – told an audience today that the UK is heading towards a big Conservative victory in the general election.

“We are eight months away from a Tory government, probably with a landslide facing us and all the havoc they will wreak on our movement,” he said. “It is the time to wake up and smell the coffee….and minimise the loss.” Read more

I suspect this quote by Brendan Barber may appear in tomorrow’s headlines: Read more

Expectations are for a Gordon Brown “recovery” speech on Tuesday when he faces the TUC Conference in Liverpool.

For all the (slightly) better economic/financial data out there, there is still an obvious dichotomy that Britain faces. Do you define the downturn by GDP figures (the formal definition of recession beging two quarters of contraction) or on unemployment figures? Read more

Unite, Britain’s biggest union, has revealed a sharp drop in global membership after discovering a quarter of a million “ghosts” who did not in fact belong to the organisation.

The group has reported a fall in its membership from 1.95m to 1.64m, equivalent to a drop of 310,000, in its annual report published this week. It later clarified this as mainly a “tidying-up exercise” as officials excised the names of former members who had left or died years earlier. Read more

The GMB threatened last summer to end donations to 35 Labour MPs. But the warning has proved a damp squib with only five losing funding from the union.

The union, one of Britain’s “big three”, said in June last year that it would withdraw financial support from up to 35 MPs because they had failed to back traditional Labour policies.

The announcement was seen at the time as a sign of growing alienation of unions under Gordon Brown’s government.

But the GMB’s failure to implement the threat may raise scepticism over similar warnings.

Unison, the public sector union, said last week that it would cut its support for Labour unless the party stopped “biting the hand that feeds it”. Read more

You may remember back in March that Unite suspended three senior officials without explaining why it had done so. Britain’s biggest union hasn’t exactly been vocal since about what happened to the trio.

The suspension of Kevin Coyne, former north-west officer for the Amicus wing of Unite, was seen as an act of revenge after Coyne stood against Derek Simpson for the leadership of the group. (In the end he came third, behind Simpson and Jerry Hicks).  Read more

A last thought before I get on with my week’s holiday. (Alex still in Westminster of course.)

The unions are one of the power bases within the Labour movement which could credibly pull the rug from under Gordon Brown. Why: because they provide almost all of its funding these days. Read more

Kevin Coyne, north-west regional official for Unite, was today suspended by the union’s hierarchy. As were two other officials.

Coyne was one of four people who stood against Derek Simpson, head of the Amicus wing of Unite, in a recent leadership challenge. Simpson won – but with only 38 per cent of the vote (see past FT Westminster blogs such as this, this and this). Read more

Derek Simpson may have only got 38 per cent of votes in the Unite/Amicus leadership election but he is home and dry. (I’ve just been passed the results by one source and haven’t heard official confirmation yet).

Interestingly, the most left-wing candidate, Jerry Hicks, came a respectable second with 25 per cent. Read more

Word reaches me that Laurence Faircloth, south-west regional officer for Unite, has dropped out of the battle to be joint head of Britain’s biggest union. Apparently he has thrown his lot in with Derek Simpson, the embattled encumbent.

Jerry Hicks, one of the remaining three challengers, suggests that the branches which backed Faircloth won’t necessarily follow his move, which may be an attempt to “save his own skin”* in case Simpson wins. Read more

Just got the news from Kevin Coyne – one of the challengers against Derek Simpson – that he received 244 branch nominations, not far behind Simpson’s 313. (For the background see my blog earlier today). He is now calling for the runners-up to, ahem, unite with him.

Simpson, the sitting joint general secretary of Unite, is suddenly looking far from secure.  Read more

I wrote in the FT over the New Year about the leadership election for the Amicus wing of super-union Unite*. Derek Simpson is facing a challenge brought about by his determination to remain as co-head of the union until 2011.

Why should we care? Because Unite is by far the biggest donor to the Labour party, a position which could change if Mr Simpson is toppled. Read more

Hilary Benn was out and about yesterday urging people to “buy British” when choosing their food and drink. This made me vaguely wonder whether to expect calls for a more general campaign to help UK industry during the recession. Unions, bishops, Labour MPs, UKIP; that sort of thing.

And then I spotted this story in the Telegraph this morning about US Democrats insisting on a “Buy American” clause in Barack Obama’s $750bn fiscal package; the obvious implication being a lurch towards protectionism by the world’s biggest economy. Read more