Recent Our democracy Articles

10 things the media didn’t tell you about changing party political funding

by Guest     July 29, 2013 at 2:24 pm

by Josiah Mortimer

Last week saw the release of all registered parties’ finances for 2012, as well as Q1 figures for 2013.

It was gold dust for politics geeks. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the media chose to ignore pretty much all of the data, probably due to all the much more newsworthy story of a couple having a baby.

The press did pick up on Labour’s finances, noting it received the most donations out of any party after raking in over £33m). Yet this fails to note that the total was in reality a fair bit higher than that due to the existence of the Co-operative Party, which only runs candidates jointly with Labour – effectively adding over £1m to Labour’s spending. So £34m spent, with not much of a boost for Miliband.

There are some much more interesting findings altogether ignored. Here’s the top ten:

1) The BNP remains heavily in debt (despite claims by Nick Griffin that it’s on the mend), with over £356,000 in liabilities. While a slight improvement on its previous £541k of debt, in relation to its income (nearly £650k) it still equates to the party being 55% in the red.

2) UKIP’s rise isn’t really reflected in its 2012 finances after bringing in £1.23m, only slightly up on its £1.07m in 2011. And it spent just over a million pounds, little up on its £971k the year before. So its surge in membership and support doesn’t seem to have translated immediately into hard cash. On the other hand, it looks like it’s building up a substantial-ish fighting fund for the 2015 election (see here). Thus far it’s amassed over £323k, tripling its 2011 assets of £104k. Keep your eye out for a continuing trend in 2014 in the run-up to the election.

3) The SNP’s income plummeted last year from over £5m in 2011 to just over £2.3m. That doesn’t bode well for its independence hopes. It’s also reflected in its expenditure, which went from £3.45m in 2011 to £2.66m last year. It does have half a million quid in reserves, meaning the SNP could be gearing up for a big referendum campaign spending spree in 2014. Or it could reflect its activists and independence supporters tunnelling funds directly into the Yes to Independence campaign. Check out the dramatic graph anyway.

4) A mixed picture for the Welsh nationalists, with Plaid Cymru racking up £683k in income and spending £594k of it – yet with similar assets to that of UKIP of £318k. Why does a Welsh-only party have the same amount in the kitty as a UK-wide party polling double that of the Liberal Democrats?

5) The Green Party of England and Wales is on the up, remaining one of the only parties to spend less than it brings in. Basically, the Greens know how to ‘balance the books’. Scoring some steady gains in local government, the party ran a pretty tight ship on an income of £781k (not much more than the collapsing BNP’s £650k), and spent £745k. Not bad work.

6) Things aren’t great for the Liberal Democrats. They’ve gone from holding nearly £2m of assets in 2006 to being £1.15m in the red today. At the same time, their income has gone from £10m in 2010 (at the peak of Cleggmania) to £6.4m today, a collapse of more than a third. The phrase ‘terminal decline’ comes to mind.

7) Labour are actually much less in debt than the Conservatives. Says a lot about Osborne’s economic policies both for the country and his own party…

8) The Communist Party of Britain seems to be doing reasonably (especially given it sort of disbanded at the start of the 1990s), with an income of £123k while spending over £129k in 2012 – leading some to ask how it was planning to make up the shortfall: Keynesian stimulus or ruthless austerity? Either way it’s unclear what they spend it on given they rarely stand candidates. Either way we won’t know who funds them since they stopped registering large donations in mid-2009 (check it yourself here).

9) The ~200 member strong Socialist Party of Great Britain, not to be confused with the much larger Socialist Party of England and Wales (hold off the People’s Front of Judea jokes…), raked in a £295,775 donation early this year from a certain Mr. Stanley Robert Parker. He’s a published sociologist (cited on Wikipedia, no less). In fact, his donation is the 7th largest party donation of the whole first quarter of 2013. The same chap also gave them £150k at the end of 2012.

10) Company donations made up over 40% of UKIP’s income in the first part of the year, a higher proportion than any other party (the Lib Dems ranking second at nearly 25%, with the Tories on less than a fifth).

Josiah Mortimer is an activist and Politics student – @josiahmortimer

What will Britain be like when the Royal Baby is King?

by Robert Sharp     July 23, 2013 at 8:01 am

So the #RoyalBaby has arrived. Congratulations to the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband.

Already tired of the preposterous media circus? Frustrated by the sycophancy? Here’s a constructive way of looking at the coverage:

You know how people like Michael Gove and David Starkey bang on about the importance of monarchs past? The traditionalists say that our Kings and Queens are useful milestones, markers or entry points to the wider social history.

Well, that can be true for future monarchs, too.

The baby boy born yesterday is now the perfect future milestone for discussions of the country we are making. He will likely begin his reign in the last decades of the twenty-first century.

That’s precisely the kind of planning horizon we need to sensibly discuss issues like climate change, technological innovation and population control.

Want to say something about the birth of this child? Set it in future historical context.

How much do we really Care?

by Guest     June 30, 2013 at 3:51 pm

by Joseph Cottrell-Boyce

Last Thursday the BBC released a video of 83-year-old Muriel Price, sobbing pitiful protests to an empty house as she lay stranded in her bed, her agency carer having failed to turn up to work. Her quiet desperation painted a shameful picture of how little our society values the elderly and vulnerable.

I found it hard to watch Muriel’s video, but wasn’t remotely surprised by the content. Just as with other recent care scandals in the UK, the pattern of failure and neglect was all too familiar to me.

I stumbled into agency care work as a 19 year old looking for employment that required neither qualifications nor experience. After two days of basic food hygiene and health and safety training I was sent to out support young adults with learning difficulties in day centres and residential homes for £5 an hour. I was utterly unprepared for the demanding work. Some of my clients had extreme behavioural difficulties; no one had told me what I should do when a charge of the same body mass as me bit an old woman in a shopping centre for example, or kicked children in a playground.

There was also little support; often I’d be left bathing, changing and moving clients alone, when for safety reasons these should have been two-person jobs. This was backbreaking work for me, and often humiliating for the person being cared for. Then there would be the times at the end of an exhausting 7am – 3pm shift when my manager would call and inform me he hadn’t managed to find cover for the afternoon and I’d have to do a ‘double’ sixteen hour day.

Although most of my colleagues were diligent and genuinely caring, I regularly witnessed malpractice. In one care home, waking night staff would tie emergency alarm cords out of reach of disabled residents, leaving them crying impotently for help in the night as the staff would catch up on sleep. I saw teenagers with learning difficulties locking in rooms for hours to ‘cool down’, by staff who’d had no training to deal with their complex needs.

Then there was the casual neglect. I’d regularly come on shift to find that an incontinent client had not been changed in the preceding 8 hours, or incapacitated clients who should have been up, washed and dressed had instead been left in bed while their carers watched TV.

To my great shame as an awkward 19 year old I never spoke up or reported wrongdoing. I did the best I could and kept my head down. I also saw the futility of complaining about individuals; this wasn’t about a few bad eggs, it was a systematic problem. We were all undertrained, underpaid and overstressed. I knew that colleagues who were negligent were also exhausted by erratic shift patterns, long commutes between different jobs and the usual stresses of trying to feed their families below the poverty line.

As frontline workers, we were also in the firing line for the failings of more senior staff; either our own managers or thinly spread social-workers. If something did go wrong or if our company lost contracts we knew that as agency workers we could be sacked at a moments notice.

The net result of all this was a sense that our work was unimportant. To many, care work was just another insecure stop on a merry-go-round of crap, poorly paid jobs and occasional spells on the dole.

It shouldn’t be like this.

Caring isn’t just another job; it is a vital component of a civilised society. The justifiable public outrage at widespread substandard care is testament to this. And despite all the stress, the antisocial hours, the lack of training or support and the rubbish pay, in many ways I loved my job. I got a buzz from enabling people to lead fuller lives than their circumstances would otherwise allow. At times the work could be genuinely rewarding and even fun. I’d go home drained, but feeling far more fulfilled than I had in the mind numbing call centre job I had paid my rent with up till then. Caring should be a vocation, but the current framework denies workers the support and security to make this possible.

Norman Lamb MP, Minister for Care and Support, has recently called for recommendations on how to reform the care system, stating the need for sweeping change. This is encouraging, but really the recipe for reform is very simple and is already working in other countries.

A few years ago I met a Swedish woman who had recently qualified as a care worker after two years of formal training. She was on a decent salary and was employed directly by the state on a permanent contract. She also had opportunities for further training and education to develop her career in the sector. She felt valued and supported and consequently took her job very seriously.

In Sweden, caring is a profession. In the UK it’s a dead end.

The neglect experienced by Muriel Price was not inflicted by one lazy carer; it is systemic neglect which implicates our priorities as a society. If we take the care of our most vulnerable seriously we need to invest in carers, giving them the tools and support to do their job properly and pay which reflects the demands of their vital work.

Joe Cottrell-Boyce is a Policy Officer at the ICB’s Traveller’s Project

Have left-wing protests become too broad to be meaningful?

by Guest     June 20, 2013 at 9:55 am

by Michael Jefferies

Many will have seen the spectacular photos documenting the recent protests in Brazil. The streets were full, block after block with people standing shoulder to shoulder – an impressive show of people-power by any measure.

Striking was the near invisibility of political parties and single issue pressure groups. In fact, there have been reports of the crowd shouting down fellow protestors that tried to raise political flags and emblems.

Contrast this with the G8 protests in Northern Ireland this weekend were we saw the full cacophony of the ‘usual suspects’ joined by more novel entrants. Nearly everyone has some sort of visible affiliation: Amnesty, Unison, anarchist groups, a spread of communist/socialist organisations, the County Sovereignty Movement, Free Palestine – the list goes on.

Notwithstanding the time, money, sweat and inconvenience that the G8 protestors endured – the strategic utility of their efforts was close to zero – mirroring the unity in their demands.

In Turkey, unity seems a little better. Turkey’s crisis of liberalism elevated a narrow-interest protest to a national, popular movement. Examining pictures (and with the caveat that I can’t speak Turkish), the presence of political organisations is by the G8 standards minimal (with the exception of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP)).

Perception matters. It determines who will join a protest and it heavily influences the narrative that may result in the political change that protestors would like to see.

Should the presence of the TKP be perceived to rise, I fear moderate liberals – the majority of the protestors – will fail in their fight against illiberal democracy.

Increasingly, successful street protesting requires unity and harnessing the masses. Without mass support, street protests are easy to ignore, before being in practice curtailed as they encroach on the activities of wider society.

Small disruptive protests may gain publicity and represent tactical victories – but only on minor issues do they translate into strategic success.

Maintaining broad, united support requires marching for specific, realistically attainable objectives that are widely supported.

It’s essential that the protest remains open, non-partisan with a mutual expectation that people check their other grievances and ideological axes at the door – especially when this baggage may alienate potential supporters.

Essential that is, if people are interested in actually changing facts on the ground rather than clinging to narrower maximalist demands.

Michael Jefferies works in defence and blogs at Full Spectrum Strategy

Why Labour is right to abandon Winter Fuel Allowance for rich pensioners

by Sunny Hundal     June 3, 2013 at 8:10 am

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls is to make a speech this morning, which is broadly an pre-emptive assault on the upcoming Spending Review by Osborne.

Extracts were sent to reporters last night. Part of his speech is about pointing out the difficult situation Labour will be in 2015 if elected:

At the time of the 2010 Spending Review, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the deficit would fall to £18bn in 2015-16. It is now forecast to be £96bn – that’s £78bn higher, even with the further deep cuts in public spending which the Chancellor has programmed in for 2015-16.

And this means that, because this Government’s austerity economics has failed, we will have to govern in a very different way and in circumstances very different to what we have known for many years. We will inherit a substantial deficit. We will have to govern with much less money around. We will need to show an iron discipline.

But his team also highlighted this part which says Labour would means-test the Winter Fuel Allowance:

When our NHS and social care system is under such pressure, can it really remain a priority to pay the winter fuel allowance – a vital support for middle and low income pensioners – to the richest 5% of pensioners, those with incomes high enough to pay the higher or top rates of tax?

About bloody time. In fact I wrote just 5 weeks ago that Winter Fuel Allowance (plus other benefits) for rich pensioners should be cut.

The Labour leadership is right to do this and I’ll happily reiterate why.

1) There is no evidence that offering universal pensioner benefits preserves support for universal benefits more broadly. Basically, people support benefits they get, but not other types of benefits such as for the unemployed or low paid.

In other words, supporting universal pensioner benefits does not preserve support for the principle of universal benefits more broadly. So I don’t see what’s the point of defending the principle in every single case.

2) Not every form of social security needs to be universal. Conservatives and left-wing critics say cutting rich pensioner benefits will save little – but this is likely to explode over coming years as the population ages and immigration falls. It will soon be a substantial amount, and it will have to be paid for somehow.

3) As I’ve said before, the left should move away from cash benefits to other forms of universal support which enjoy broader support. A better funded social care system for example would be a much better alternative.

The evidence shows that even as universal benefits have increased recently, support for them continues to fall. The Left has to start think of alternatives.

Let me reiterate two points again

I like universal benefits. I would just prefer focus on other kinds of benefits rather than cash hand-outs to rich pensioners.

When people say that means-testing would reduce support for the principle of universalism in other areas, I say – you are wrong. There are no evidence to support that.

Are the British public getting more savvy to extremism?

by Robert Sharp     June 1, 2013 at 9:25 am

Here’s a brilliant story from the City of York:

The EDL posted details about a demonstration they were going to host at our mosque on Sunday on their Facebook page. My first reaction was to let the police know, which I did, but when I really started thinking about it I remembered George Bernard Shaw saying, “If the world’s problems were brought to the Prophet Muhammad, he would solve them over a cup of tea..” I knew we had a sunny forecast for Sunday, and it’s very English to have tea and biscuits in the afternoon, so I thought it would be a kind gesture to invite the EDL in to tell us about their grievances.

First, this story represents an alternative vision of multiculturalism, the one put forward by the Dalai Lama when I asked him about the concept, a few years ago: Multiculturalism is about stressing similarities between different cultures.

Second, is it me, or have the British public become savvier at dealing with extremism?

I think people have ‘wised-up’ to the power of counter-intuitive gestures. As well as this Muslim take on ‘make tea not war’, I am thinking of things like the London #RiotCleanup that arose in response to the 2011 riots.

I also recall gestures of solidarity and defiance, like We Are Not Afraid and the Iranian/Israel Facebook Love-in.

I’ve made other notes on my own blog about counter-intutive, unexpected, turn-the-other-cheek style thinking. I think the savviness, such as it is, comes from the way in which ordinary people recognise the value not just in doing something unexpected and open, but in publicising that fact!

I note this not as a criticism, just an observation about the way in which people can spread their actions, and therefore their ideologies, through social media.

I do not know for sure, my I have an inkling that Mohamed El-Gomati’s idea to invite the EDL to tea was inspired as much by the recent precedent set by the sort of social media campaigns I mentioned above, as by anything said by the Prophet Mohammed.

I will try to log more examples of public savviness when they arise in future. Can you think of any more?


Re-reading this, I think it needs another paragraph. What is noteworthy about year gestures is that they do not come from politicians. Remember when Boris Johnson tried to piggy-back onto the #RiotCleanup goodwill. The examples I mentioned are also examples of leadership, progress, bold action that politicians do not seem capable of initiating. Is that because they lack imagination, or because we are so cynical that we would scoff at the same acts, if a politician tried to initiate them?

The ‘Labour 4 for an EU Referendum’ campaign is finished. Dead on Arrival.

by Sunny Hundal     May 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I was running my own campaign calling for Labour to offer an EU Referendum before it became cool. But now, given all the renewed focus on this question, a group of Labour folks have set up a Labour for a referendum campaign.

Unfortunately, it is Dead on Arrival. Finished. The chances succeeding now are very near zero.

And there are very simple reasons for this.

1) Mad Euro-sceptic Tories have shown that once you feed the beast it only grows and gets more demanding. So Ed Miliband will not want to feed it at all.

2) When your opponents are in chaos and fighting against each other, why wade in too? It is much better for Ed Miliband to let the Tories carry on making a fool out of themselves. It’s not like the EU Referendum is going to come at an earlier date just because Tory backbenchers want it so.

3) The Labour leadership have settled on a position now: committing to a referendum now would only lead to more uncertainty over the UK’s relationship with Europe, given 2017 is so far away. It makes no sense to junk that position at now.

I was told by a senior shadow cabinet member, over a year ago, that at one point all three parties were negotiating a joint position on offering an EU Referendum. At that point I was optimistic that it would be in Labour’s next manifesto or materialise as a commitment even earlier.

But for some reason the negotiations broke down and the three parties could not agree on jointly offering an EU Referendum. And so everyone went their separate ways.

A more coordinated campaign to get Labour to agree to a referendum should have been launched over a year ago. At this stage, mostly thanks to the antics of the Tory right, there is no chance the Labour leadership will entertain the idea now.

Why haven’t the Greens become popular since the financial crash, rather than UKIP?

by Sunny Hundal     May 8, 2013 at 9:10 am

At a cricket match with some lefties a few years ago, I suggested to some prominent Greens that their party needed to sound more anti-establishment like UKIP.

Obviously I didn’t mean the Greens should adopt UKIP’s half-baked policies, but that the latter were doing a much better job at sounding like they wanted to challenge the Westminster consensus.

I was reminded of that when Chris Dillow said UKIP’s rise is a triumph for the pro-establishment ruling class.

This sounds too much like it was inevitable the likes of UKIP and the ‘ruling class’ would triumph after the financial crash of 2008. I think it actually highlights the failure of the Left to get our shit together.

The rise of various Leftist movements across Europe has shown it’s not always the Right that triumphs from political and economic uncertainty. Of course, there are plenty of anarchist groups and anti-establishment movements in the UK. But they’re too busy infighting or competing with each other to be puritanical. The ‘threat’ they pose to the Westminster elite is, at best, vague. Moreover, I’ve barely seen any introspection or open discussion about why any movements have failed to take off (especially among students).

To my mind there are broadly two ways to broad political power: you either mobilise large numbers of people, or you can get them to vote for you. The British Left is failing on both counts.

This brings me back to the Greens. I was told that they did not want to ape UKIP for two reasons: first, they wanted to sound credible and viable rather than mad; second, their strategy was to slowly build up a base and win seats local rather than jumping for attention in the national media.

It’s a plausible strategy but not one of an insurgency trying to pull the consensus in their direction. The financial crash, ongoing austerity cuts or even the slew of dire warnings about climate change should have injected a sense of urgency into the Greens. Instead, the party is pottering along (they won 5 council seats in the local elections) and upsetting no one.

The rise of UKIP demonstrates two points I think:

1) To pose a threat to the system you don’t need detailed policies or an established base, but to latch on to a few issues and rile up enough people about them to give you a boost. Own those issues completely and find ways to inject urgency into the national discourse.

2) Voters are annoyed enough with the narrow consensus of the three parties that, when they see a viable alternative (Lucas in Brighton, Galloway in Tower Hamlets and Bradford, UKIP in Eastleigh etc), they vote for the alternative.

But the Greens have to sound like they pose a threat to the establishment; they have to radiate danger and insurgency (while not sounding angry), not fluffy middle-class sentiments.

PS: I’m not bidding to join the Greens and remain firmly committed to the Labour party. All I’m saying is that the rise of UKIP, as opposed to a more left-wing movement, wasn’t inevitable.

It reflects a failure on the left to be fail to mobilise large numbers of people or have a political party in Westminster that sounds like an insurgency.

How the Conservatives are trying to wreck the Defamation Bill

by Helen Goodman MP     April 12, 2013 at 8:23 am

One of key reasons for the introduction of the Defamation Bill was to protect journalists and small publication from being harried by large corporations.

The problem with defamation law has been particularly stark in relation to scientific articles.

We have seen numerous cases – Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre to name just two – where science writers have been sued for libel relating to articles that are patently part of the scientific debate.

To tackle this Labour moved amendments to tackle this problem in the House of Commons. These amendments were sadly defeated by the government.

Happily these amendments were re-tabled when the Bill made its way to the House of Lords and were passed with Cross-bench support.

These amendments will raise the bar for corporations to bring a claim of defamation. This is entirely right because, contrary to what Mitt Romney may have said, corporations are not people.

Too often libel law is used by corporations as a way to suppress negative publicity – this must change.

Unfortunately the battle is yet to be won. Edward Garnier, the former Tory Solicitor General, has now tabled amendments that would remove these amendments from the Bill.

D-Day will be on Tuesday when the Bill returns to the House of Commons to discuss the amendments made by Peers.

Garnier’s amendment must be defeated if this Bill is to do what it was intended to.

Why not remember Thatcher’s legacy by helping her victims?

by Guest     April 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm

by Alex Higgins

When the Iron Lady came out, I had something of a premonition of a very predictable future. Margaret Thatcher would die and our national dialogue would become completely unbearable.

The press would laud her as a national saviour, a Mother Teresa with a navy. Lefties would rejoice as they had long promised. Their tweets/statements/pictures of their grinning selves, champagne bottle in hand would be used as a stick to beat the rest of us, possibly forever.

Lost in all this would be the people actually hurt by Thatcher’s government and ideology, the cause of the all the bitterness. I was resigned to that until I had an idea that might just turn the conversation in a more useful direction.

I’m not an ex-miner, I didn’t grow up in the post-industrial north, or Soweto, or West Belfast. I haven’t been tortured in a Chilean prison. I don’t want to stand in judgement of people whose anger comes from experience. But I do want lefties with no living memory of Thatcher and a Twitter account to do something more productive.

Don’t Hate, Donate (#donthatedonate is a website directing people to charities and campaigns that memorialise Thatcherism’s victims and legacy.

A way to remember people who don’t get pull-out supplements in national newspapers – the people her government hurt. People who don’t get televised funerals in St. Paul’s Cathedral or reams of highly-paid media figures to whitewash their record and pour myopic outrage on their critics. The people her supporters forget, or want to forget.

You can do that by donating to the excellent charities we have chosen to represent a fraction of them – the homeless, miners’ families, gay teenagers, Hillsborough survivors and South African victims of the Apartheid regime.

More may be to come, depending on the traction we get. Share it like crazy online!

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