Labour and the unions: Now the ball is in the Tories’ court

In the wake of today's speech Ed Miliband will face the biggest test of his leadership thus far - and it is a test of his own making.

In the wake of today’s speech Ed Miliband will face the biggest test of his leadership thus far; and it is a test of his own making.

In announcing that he will end the automatic affiliation fee paid by union members to Labour, Miliband is making party funding more transparent.

In the process he is also raising the spectre of a funding shortfall should union members opt on mass not to give money to Labour.

In other words, we don’t yet know what the real impact of the reforms announced today will be. Miliband himself has admitted that the changes will have “massive financial implications for the party”, and these “implications” will only become clear in time.

There are grounds for cautious optimism, however. Yesterday Left Foot Forward came up with a list of five party reforms which we believe Ed Miliband should consider. We’re pleased to note that many of these have either been adopted by Ed or featured in some form in his speech today.

While the media will undoubtedly focus on the end to automatic affiliation, there were other announcements that warrant just as much attention.

Yesterday we called for a spending cap for candidate selections. Today Ed announced that the party would be adopting such a measure.

This is an incredibly important move which would help to ensure that standing as a Labour candidate is less dependent upon money than it has been in the past – whether union money or private money.

Miliband also mooted the idea of open primaries – to start with in London Mayoral contests but with an eye to broadening the franchise to other elections if successful.

Left Foot Forward has long been a proponent of some form of primaries. As well as potentially energising many Labour supporters to get involved in the selection of candidates, the prospect of primaries will worry the Tories, with Cameron under pressure to follow suite in backing primaries but fearful of further grassroots rebellian.

There were also calls by Ed for all-party talks around a cap on large donations to restart.

While many on the left will worry that this will hurt trade union donations to Labour, in reality it’s more likely to worry the Tories. 248 of the top 1,000 individuals featured on last year’s Sunday Times Rich List have financially supported the Conservative Party since 2001, with donations totalling £83.6m.

Lord Ashcroft alone has given £6.1m to the Tories since 2001.

In this respect Ed Miliband has put his cards on the table; now it’s the turn of the Tories to do so.

In dealing with the row between Labour and Unite which erupted last week, kudos must go to the Miliband party machine for a masterclass in triangulation. If you are able to get both Len McCkluskey and Tony Blair on board you are clearly doing something right.

Specifically credit must go to Labour general secretary Iain McNicol for handling last week’s fireworks so well – not easy given the media’s propensity to blow up all discord within the Labour ranks.

The challenge now will be to keep a lid on the predictable reaction from the Labour left. It’s right that leftists should get excised about talk of any Labour break with the trade unions. The link must be maintained and strengthened, not broken.

However that relationship must be updated for the 21st century. And both Labour and the trade unions must be openly funded and funded directly. This will be a challenge for both Labour and the unions; but a challenge is often what a movement needs to give it a kick up the backside and allow it to reinvigorate itself.

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11 Responses to “Labour and the unions: Now the ball is in the Tories’ court”

  1. OldLb

    Very simple.

    All donations have to be direct and not through third parties. No donations from companies, think tanks, lobby or unions.

  2. Cole

    Agree with that. And a limit of say, £1000, per annum per individual.

  3. Paul

    In the third paragraph, “on mass” should be, “en masse”. It pays to check before trying to use phrases from foreign languages.

  4. blarg1987

    What will be interesting is will thisopen up questions in say companies, as shareholders have no say if the company should make a donation to a political party, will this now be challanged?

  5. Juteman

    So we will have one major party funded by rich individuals, and the Tory party funded by rich individuals?
    Left foot forward, or DemocratsR’Us?

  6. OldLb

    Why? If its your money, you should be allowed to spend it as you see fit.

    Now if you say, look people are buying something with their cash, then you say, no funding at all.

    Equally, then there is no funding for parties, because that’s forcing people to pay for the unacceptable.

    Hence I’ve come to the conclusion, that we need to remove parties from the decision making process and revert the control to the electorate.

    1. Open primaries

    2. Right of recall

    3. Referenda by proxy (or general referenda, if you want to waste money)

    4. Abolish the Lords

    5. Abolish regulation by dictate – ministers making up the law.

  7. Sids666

    A cap on large donations would be good – wonder if Ed is finally coming round to supporting the proposal from the Tories 6 years ago that they be limited to £50k?

  8. blarg1987

    Think a yearly cap on donations would help as the idea of democracy is one person one vote, by limiting what an individual could give it prevents people with wealth buying policies.
    Right to recall could be good, but it depends on the detail, as the last thing we want is people demanding an MP to be recalled because he does something that benefits 60% of constituents yet a vocal 10 – 20% dont like it.

  9. OldLb

    You’re wrong on recall.

    If 20% don’t like it, they can trigger a recall. However, 60% then vote to keep the MP. No change of MP.

    However, if we take the gay marriage issue then I think that is a valid reason for a recall vote. It wasn’t in a manifesto, so as people weren’t told, its correct they can try and remove the MP who didn’t tell them what they were going to do. It’s not democracy if you are voting for something secret.

    Far better that MPs are open about what they are going to do. Crucial to any democracy.

  10. blarg1987

    Very true, however the caviat should be that if the MP has been upfront about their policies then the vocal 10% can;t demand a recall everytime they oush throuhg one of the policies they were voted in fot every 5 minutes simply because they disagree with it and are trying to drag their heels. People with alot of influence and capital could potentially do this.

  11. OldLb

    Influence and capital are irrelevant. You need to get people to sign a petition.

    Now lets extend it.

    What happens if a parliament becomes unwanted 2 years into a 5 year term?

    Recall petition gets enough votes, recall election takes place and because people don’t like the MPs party, they are voted out.

    Do this enough times and there is an election.

    What’s not to like about a parliament reflecting the views of the majority?

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