Union cuts funding to Labour
LONDON (Reuters) - One of the country's biggest trade unions said on Tuesday it has halted some financing for the Labour Party and threatened to cut off election funding unless the party stops privatising public services.
The threat by UNISON, Britain's biggest public sector union, increases pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has just stamped out an attempted revolt against his leadership of the Labour Party.
Labour turned in disastrous results in June 4 European and local elections and an Ipsos MORI poll for UNISON on Tuesday showed the Conservatives are still on track to win the next national election, which Brown must call within a year.
The Conservatives polled support of 39 percent, down 1 point from the last Ipsos MORI poll at the end of May, while Labour was on 25 percent, an improvement on May's historic low of 18 percent but far from the levels needed to retain power.
UNISON, which has more than 1.3 million members, said it was immediately suspending 100,000 pounds it spends each year on funding local Labour parties around the country in protest at Labour's support for privatisation of some public services.
One million pounds in funding for Labour's campaign for the next national election was also at risk, according to the union, which said it would only support Labour candidates at the next election who opposed privatisation of public services.
"No more blank cheques," UNISON's General Secretary Dave Prentis told a union conference in Brighton.
Separately, the Labour Party said a party disciplinary panel had barred member of parliament Jim Devine from standing at the next national election.
Devine faced allegations, which he denied, of irregularities in his expense claims. More than a dozen members of parliament caught up in a scandal over parliamentary expenses have said they will step down at the next election.
Legislators' expense claims, which caused uproar after being leaked to the Daily Telegraph, are to be released officially on parliament's Web site on Thursday.
Losing UNISON's financial backing in the election campaign would be a severe blow to Labour, which reported 11.5 million pounds in debts at the end of March.
However, a union spokeswoman said a further 1.5 million pounds of payments to Labour would not be affected.
UNISON says it is among the top three biggest donors to the Labour Party, which traditionally relies upon trades unions for the lion's share of its funding.
UNISON objects to the public sector contracting out some services to private firms and to partnerships between the public and private sectors that are sometimes used to build big projects such as hospitals and schools.
Funding of public services will be a key battleground in the next election, with the main parties accusing each other of planning to slash public services to rein in ballooning public borrowing caused by a deep recession.
Commenting on UNISON's move, a Labour Party spokesman said: "The Labour Party and UNISON share a commitment to the values of public services and social justice ... but the Labour Party's policy is built on wider foundations -- listening to the views of the whole community to build a fair future for all."
(Additional reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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