Ed Miliband has had Labour Party general secretary Ray Collins write to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (a sort of quango, set up in 1994, with members appointed by the Government and the three big parties) to say donations to political parties should be capped at £500.
Collins' letter was reported in the press at the end of December, together with speculation about Ed Miliband giving 25% of the vote in future Labour leadership elections to "supporters" who are not Labour Party members (nor, presumably, even levy-paying members of affiliated unions). The 25% scheme was soon disavowed by Miliband's office.
Though Collins' letter is an official Labour Party submission, he didn't consult National Executive members about the £500 idea.
Collins's letter says, cryptically, that "Party funding reform should not be used... to alter the internal constitutional arrangements of... political parties". Miliband's people have told the press that this means that union affiliations to the Labour Party could stay, being deemed to be only an aggregation of individual members' political levy payments. Extra payments by unions to the Labour Party, decided by union committees, would presumably be banned.
Miliband is probably trying to be "clever", and wrongfoot the Tories by forcing them to defend bigger political donations. But we know Nick Clegg regards implementation of Hayden Phillips as a priority demand in the coalition government; and David Cameron may be willing to give him some slack there.
Miliband's support for "cross-party agreement" could be very dangerous.
Many Blairites have long wanted to cut Labour's union links. They have held back because state funding is too unpopular to introduce without all-party agreement, and, despite a flurry in the early Blair years, big-business funding for Labour has faded away. It will be idiotic if the unions, having elected Ed Miliband as leader on the promise of a break from ultra-Blairism and a leadership more responsive to the labour movement, now allow him to stumble into carrying out the ultra-Blairites' programme.
Unite leader Len McCluskey said, "If anybody is attempting to sever the link with the unions, we will oppose that. This is our party. What Ed needs to understand is that the trade union movement created the Labour Party. If there are people who just see us as a cash cow, the dotty aunt and uncle who are... just brought out to sign cheques, then that's not going to happen." Trade union members should see that McCluskey is held to those words.
• Collins letter: http://bit.ly/hRL8fr
• Hayden Phillips: http://www.partyfundingreview.gov.uk/
The Financial Times of 29 December reports "a senior Labour source" as refuting the report in The Independent that Ed Miliband proposes to have a quarter of the votes in Labour leadership elections given to "supporters" who are not Labour Party members.
"This... doesn't come from Ed and doesn't have his support".
The FT's Jim Pickard gives links to other comment, and himself argues that in fact no big changes in party funding are likely to go through. Maybe he's right. But still (a) Ed Miliband is playing with fire; (b) by what right does he make such proposals without reference to any democratic discussion or decision in the labour Party?