Why I was pleased with Ed Miliband’s move on party funding


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8:55 am - April 17th 2012

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contribution by Karl Davis

As an increasingly critical and frustrated Labour party member, I found Ed Miliband’s comments about the thorny issue of party funding today quite pleasing.

I’m tired of party advocates squirming in front of TV cameras as Tories bully them into condemning every strike ballot, and launch jibes about the fact that the party is largely funded by organised workers.

It is clear for all to see that the Tories couldn’t give damn about radical reform of our political system and overhaul of its culture of dependency.

They only care about turning this debate into an opportunity to further bind the hands of free and democratic trade unions.

The Tories want a cap of £50,000 on donations, and they want to include union donations within that proposed rule. If this were to come into force it could quite literally starve the Labour party out of effective operation as a political voice for working people.

To choke off the natural home of that massed, disenchanted voice would prevent the very real possibility of electoral disaster for them, come 2015.

There lies a lot of merit in Miliband’s proposals. Allowing personal party donations of £5000, and a union levy of £3 per member to be donated to Labour, with individuals also able to donate separately upto the specified £5000 limit would maintain the strong and proud links between the unions, and the party they created over a century ago.

It would still generate revenue for the party, as well as maintaining its accountability to organised workers.

In addition to this, it would set the unions a challenge of enthusing and motivating their members to join and donate to Labour, thereby forcing them to up their game and increase their engagement with their members.

It would also strengthen the link between union and party, increasing membership, consolidating the democratic mandate for real change that people so badly want, as well as channelling the organisational expertise of trade unions into local communities.


Karl Davis is a train driver and trade union activist, having held a number of elected positions within the train driver’s union, ASLEF and the TUC. Karl lives in Hull, East Yorkshire, and is married with a young son. He blogs at www.karl-davis.blogspot.com

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Reader comments


1. Shrugged...

And how are you going to police this, exactly?
£5K is less than the cost of a big night out in the City.

@Karl, there is nothing to stop individual, disenchanted working people from donating to or becoming members of the Labour party. Some examination wouldn’t go amiss of why Labour membership halved while Tony Blair was at the helm.

If the union levy is to be used as a political donation, then the individual members of the union should be asked both whether they want their money used this way and which party it should go to. It is not “fair” to decide that all union members want to fund the Labour Party. Some may want to fund Respect, some may want to give money to the Greens.

If you work for JCB you are working for a company to make money of which some will be donated to the Tory Party.

@JC- People don’t have to pay that bit extra if they don’t want to donate to Labour. If they wish they can donate directly to the Greens or Respect.

5. Paul Newman

No Labour Leader has ever unequivocally backed a strike – so what , no-one cares what they say , they a paid for .

Even at its zenith Union membership was no more than half of the workforce, in the 30s ,now it hovers below 20% almost exclusively in the parasitical public sector comprising a better paid, pensioned, qualified and more often home owning privileged sinecure dump.

These work shy and un-productive loafers are the true cause of the deficit, and Milliband was sponsored and levered in against the wishes of his own PLP on their say so.

Teachers who are about to strike make up about half of Labour activists spending their long holidays trying to get even more money form the rest of us for whom part time fully paid job security is a dream

The funding initiative makes little real difference to Labour but would hurt Conservatives and is so childishly partisan it is not worthy of any response whatsoever.

New Labour could not give a damn about either electoral or funding reform all the time they were able to bribe private equity and win elections

Why should anyone who can afford it not give £50,000 to the Conservative Party? It is not buying policy the way the Unions do and such wishes in a free society should not be forbidden . they will otherwise find their way into a broad right movement and quite right to .

We cannot Nationalise Politics

For Labour escaping from the domination of Len McLuskey is about appealing to ordinary aspirational small business and especially Southern supporters, its purely sectional appeal is a dead end and that is a problem it will not solve by taking theball away when it is losing

If the union levy is to be used as a political donation, then the individual members of the union should be asked both whether they want their money used this way and which party it should go to.

They do, and have done for decades.

If a union wishes to start making party-political contributions, it must ballot its members on whether they wish to set up such a fund. Every 10 years, they are balloted on whether it should continue.

If the members choose to set up such a fund, it is paid for through a political levy on trade union dues. This levy is separate from other union contributions and is completely voluntary; it is absolutely illegal to deny other trade union services to people who choose not to pay it.

(side note: if your base level of understanding of UK trade union rules is so limited that you don’t understand political contributions are voluntary, you probably don’t have enough knowledge of trades unions to have formed an opinion on them that is worth sharing).

(side note: if your base level of understanding of UK trade union rules is so limited that you don’t understand political contributions are voluntary, you probably don’t have enough knowledge of trades unions to have formed an opinion on them that is worth sharing).

He’s obviously making the “opt-in” versus “opt-out” point on the political levy that Labour are refusing to touch. For reasons Ed Balls makes clear here:

http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2012/04/why-labour-doesnt-want-a-political-levy-opt-in/

Nice stat here:

Under the current opt-out system only 8.8 per cent of union members don’t pay the levy. But in Northern Ireland, which now has an opt-in, only 39 per cent of members do pay the levy.

@ Paul Newman – Who are the work shy and loafers who caused the deficit?

Are the teachers Unions affiliated to Labour?

TimJ – It is easy to opt out.

10 – it would be just as easy to opt in then. Why the opposition?

Why change if it’s easy? In the end it will be down to the Unions and it’s a persons choice as long as they are made aware of the facts. You may find that just as many people contribute to the levy if they choose to opt in, I mean it is their own money they are handing over in the first place and I can’t see people who vote Conservative paying into the levy. If the levy was to the Tory Party then I would opt out. So as long as the terms are known when someone signs up I can’t see a problem.

Where I work people have just signed up to Union membership but more people vote Conservative. They have decided not to pay the political levy.

13. Paul Newman

Ok if the Unions can give as much as the like provided they ask their members when the Moon aligns with Venus what about the rest of us( The 80% of working people that pay for their cushy number )form our own club , pay as much as we fancy and approve donations tot the Conservative Party by ballot every tens years. Such an arrangement already suits many small businesses

Or just start up a separate campaigning outfit and spew out propaganda/childish lies ( as the Unions do) lend staff office et all . Could call it the Tax Payers Alliance or something ?

Come to think about I feel this nascent organisation needs modernising. Why can the ” Private Sector South and English Charity To Resist Union Blackmail ” not get a £10,000,000 modernisation grant like the Unions so the tax payer kicks in as much for the right as the left.

Or how about the Labour Party gets it money when someone writes out as a cheque in an envelope and send it to the Labour Party same as everyone else. We do have e mail now and credit cards , its not that much to ask …
….blimey you might almost think that all these people don`t actually want to give money to the Labour Party or something? Surely Shome Mishtake

I do like the fear organised labour causes in tossers.

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 Steven

“Why change if it’s easy?”

Because the only difference between the two systems is that the existing one inevitably gets extra revenue from people who mean to opt out but forget. Which is bad enough when it comes in the form of companies automatically signing you up to an expensive contract after a free trial period, but REALLY dodgy when it’s a form of political funding.

Paul Newman – I haven’t got a clue what you are really on about, and do you know yourself?

You’re treating the Unions as some kind of conspiracy that are out to rip everyone off and undermine the working population. I feel that it is attitudes like yours which have been dragging thins country down for far to long and been getting away with it. The attitude has under minded millions of workers in this country by discrediting what they do when in fact they work hard like teachers and nurses yet you can’t see it. Life isn’t about the race to the bottom but about getting better and about leaving better things for the next generation so why discredit public pensions and work benefits, why not allow these benefits to the wider working population? The main reason for the collapse in pay and pensions in the private sector is because Unions are so weak.

The people who have been running the show for the past 30 years have sent this country and many others down the spiral instead of up and for this you can not blame the Unions because it has nothing to do with them.

17. Donut Hinge Party

Really, here as well?

*Sigh*

The Labour Party is the elected political arm of the affiliated Trade Unions. The Trade Unions collect money from their members which they put to further advancing their political aims. Some of it goes to the Labour party, and some of it goes to other political aims, such as providing financial support to striking workers.

Fortunately, most people in Trade Unions recognise that it’s good for Union members if the country itself is profitable and not at war, so their political lobby works for what’s good for the entire country.

If the currently affiliated Unions feel that Labour aren’t representing them, then the Unions are completely at liberty to disaffiliate (as with RMT). They may even decide that the Conservatives are better placed to represent them in parliament, in which case they could happily give their funding to the Conservative party. Strangely this has never happened, but in response to paulnewman if you want to set up your own union, charge access and channel funds to the Conservative party then yes, you are free to do this.

I’m not all that cogent with the Union Modernisation Fund, but as I understand it, it is a way to help existing unions adapt to changes in the law and to increase involvement in those sectors which are deemed to be growth industries.

For example, at the moment in UMF Round 3 the following bids are being undertaken. Much of this capital, of course, will go to private sector consultancies and research firms – Bob Crow doesn’t pocket 85K and then go and scribble a couple of hundred words himself.

Challenging the Creative Labour Market – moving young people to centre stage
The Hidden Workforce (Presumably something about Cash in hand illegal workers)
Engaging Vulnerable Workers
Supporting Unions to tackle Vulnerable employment
Protecting Vulnerable Workers

You may find that just as many people contribute to the levy if they choose to opt in

You might, but we do have a counterfactual in Northern Ireland, which I quoted. In the GB opt-out system you get 91.2% of members paying. In the NI opt-in system, you get 39% of members paying. That’s a significant difference.

If the currently affiliated Unions feel that Labour aren’t representing them, then the Unions are completely at liberty to disaffiliate (as with RMT). They may even decide that the Conservatives are better placed to represent them in parliament, in which case they could happily give their funding to the Conservative party. Strangely this has never happened

And yet, at the last election, more UNISON and UNITE members voted Tory than Labour, suggesting that there’s something amiss with their dues being siphoned off to a political party they’re actively voting against.

19. Donut Hinge Party

Gee, if only there was a conference at which union members could vote on whether they wanted to keep sponsoring the Labour party or not.

Oh, wait. . .

http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/union_elections_meetings_and/unite_2012_policy_conference.aspx

Motions 79 through 81.

20. Donut Hinge Party

UNISON in the TUC and the Labour Party

http://www.unison.org.uk/about/about.asp

“UNISON is the largest union in the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and plays an important role in developing policy. It has a big voice too in the Scottish, Welsh and Irish trades union congresses.

To make sure that issues affecting our members are heard in the outside world, UNISON has a political fund. This money – collected from our members – can only be spent on political and social campaigning. Unlike any other trade union, UNISON offers you the choice of two funds to pay into:

1. The Affiliated Political Fund works to support the Labour Party
2. The General Political Fund campaigns in a non-affiliated way to further the interests of our members.”

TimJ – If people who are a member of a Union and they know money from their Union goes to Labour,and their own money, yet continually vote against Labour because they dislike Labour policies or politics need to be told about the opt out but my guess is that they already have and that people who do continually vote against Labour do not pay the levy. If they do then why isn’t there an uproar amongst Conservative Union members. Where is the uproar?

Sooo…

It’s all perfectly clear and easy to opt out. And the fact that 92% of members don’t bother means that they’re totally clear about the process and entirely happy with their money being given to the Labour party. Even though nothing like that number even vote for the Labour party, and in some unions more actually vote for the Tories. And despite the fact that where there is an opt-in system, the number who positively choose to donate their subs to a political party collapses to less than 40%.

Well, I’m convinced. I think you still have to persuade Ed Balls though. He seems pretty sure you’re wrong.

23. Donut Hinge Party

TimJ

Unison IS an opt out system. You can’t abnegate all your political financial obligation, but you can choose not to give money to the Labour party.

A lot of Unions are not affiliated with Labour. Some people may be happy to contribute to Labour but voted Tory last time for other reasons, swing voters come to mind. In the end it is up to the person paying. They are not forced to and they can opt out at any time. Better communication with this issue may be needed to it’s members but in the end it is up to the Union as a whole and the individual person contributing.

I am sure people know what Unions are for and that some give money to Labour I don’t think people are oblivious to it.

in the end it is up to the Union as a whole and the individual person contributing.

At the moment. But then inertia selling was allowed too until relatively recently.

26. Donut Hinge Party

Inertia Selling is when payment is requested after goods or services have been provided; like those ‘Book of the Month’ clubs, or traffic light window washers.

The equivalent would be a bill turning up on a worker’s doormat saying “We represented your rights last year; you now owe us £35.”

What you’re thinking of is more like ‘frictionless sharing’, which is used to sell insurance on travel sites. However, the reason they no longer default to offering insurance is to do with avoiding bad PR rather than changes in the law. Presumably the Unions and their current membership are happy with the PR/income balance they already have.

The arguments about opt-in/opt-out would probably have more merit if joining a union in the first fucking place wasn’t you know, optional.
I fail to see what the problem is with unions simply assuming you wish to financially support the party they helped found when you first sign up, until you’ve informed them otherwise.

28. Donut Hinge Party

Cylux:

Quite right. I recall the wife wasn’t too chuffed when I asked whether the wedding vows were opt in or opt out.

Cause I could get behind richer and poorer, but she’s a BEAR when she’s sick.

29. Margin4error

As an alternative means of making things fair – perhaps the Tories could incorporate the companies who fund them into their constitution and admit that they are a key component of their party DNA much as Labour does with the Unions that founded the Labour Party.

I don’t see why hedge funds and private medical companies that give lots of money to the tories shouldn’t have a transparent say on electing the leader of their party or selecting candidates – and of course voting on policies at conference.

Cap all donations whether they are corporate or union; if political parties want lots of money, they will have to entice lots of the public into making small donations and/or subscribing.

The Conservative party used to have some 2.5m members; Labour party membership halved while Tony Blair was at the helm.

They know why.

31. Paul Newman

I fail to see what the problem is with unions simply assuming you wish to financially support the party they helped found when you first sign up, until you’ve informed them otherwise.

Suits me let the unions run Labour let then fund it and let them stand for election as what they are.
As for those elected to defend of the tax payer,against parasitic Public Sector lobbying groups and their poltical servants. I fail to see why Big Len`s pink little bunny rabbit need entertain us with his babbling about their funding at all.

God I am looking forward to the strikes ,about time we flushed … in this country

32. Donut Hinge Party

As for those elected to defend of the tax payer,against parasitic Public Sector lobbying groups and their poltical servants. I fail to see why Big Len`s pink little bunny rabbit need entertain us with his babbling about their funding at all.
===
Um, you do know that most Unite members are in the private sector, and that both the largest public sector union (PCS) and Bob Crow’s RMT are disaffiliated and don’t pay a single penny to Labour, yes?

27 Cylux

Spot on.

@32 – I don’t think Paul Neman likes facts, that is why he keeps taking no notice of what other people have to say on here. If he did take any notice it would upset his own perception of what he would like as reality which will only get him in a mood.

“I’m tired of party advocates squirming in front of TV cameras as Tories bully them into condemning every strike ballot, and launch jibes about the fact that the party is largely funded by organised workers.”

Really, though, we need Labour to be an unapologetic workers’ party whose leaders support every strike ballot and boast about being funded by organised workers.

36. Charlieman

@30. ukliberty: “Cap all donations whether they are corporate or union; if political parties want lots of money, they will have to entice lots of the public into making small donations and/or subscribing.”

This is another nice try at solving a problem. One of the best. But there is no perfect solution for any problem where human greed and corruption intervene.

Should there be a cap on personal donations? Is it moral to deny a citizen the right to blow £30,000 of his/her own money on an election campaign? Is it fair, in a 19th century or earlier way, to pit rich versus poor candidates, or do you permit the poor candidates to seek external funding but to deny them a generous benefactor?

I dunno.

In New Labour times, newspapers revealed that a party donor shielded his contributions by asking an employee to make them for him. No malice was intended — the bloke didn’t want to make a fuss about giving his money to a political party.

This scenario is one that challenges ukliberty’s cap on donations. In the USA (so eliminate the previous example from your mind), “personal donations” on behalf of the boss are/were used to escape donation caps.

People like me and ukliberty (permitted to disagree, of course) seek clarity about who is giving money to politicians. Open books, where does the money come from?

£3 from every Union member interesting what happens if I’m a Tory and in a Union or Plaid or liberal.

In my last place of work, out of 250 in the Union only a hand full were paid up labour members, most did not care about labour and a lot would argue they rather not give three pound to any party.

Labour then would agrue the levy was their which they did a few years ago, but of course the levy can be used for many things not just donations to the labour party.

hence my Union will be looking at changing the rule on donation so we can donate to any party

@37

£3 from every Union member interesting what happens if I’m a Tory and in a Union or Plaid or liberal.

Not that interesting since you and every other union member can opt out of the levy should you wish to do so. As you’d know if you’d bothered to inform yourself, or even just read the preceding comments.

39. Margin4Error

Robert

I would guess that as a representitive body – a union’s leadership is entrusted to support the creation and running of a party that represents the working people of this country if it wants – and that while Labour undoubtedly get a lot wrong – things like a minimum wage and a right to be a member of a union, presumably justify that decision to such leaders.

Don’t get me wrong – a union member might want his or her union to support a party that didn’t support a legal right to union representation – but that seems a rather bizarre position for a union member to take.


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