The very viability of the Labour Party, or of any union-based political party, could be thrown into question on 22 November, when the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL, a sort of quango, set up in 1994, with members appointed by the Government and the three big parties) publishes its long-brewed report on party funding.
According to the Guardian (28 October), the CSPL will propose:
• Parties get £3 in public money for each vote they receive in a general election;
• Donations to political parties be capped at £50,000.
It is not clear whether union affiliation money for the Labour Party would escape the £50,000 limit on the grounds that is only an aggregation of individual union members’ levy payments. Presumably extra donations to Labour, made by unions from their political funds in addition to affiliation fees, would be banned.
The Guardian says the Tories want the CSPL to recommend unions be obliged to ask members to opt in to the political levy, rather than giving them the chance to opt out. That would sharply reduce Labour income.
The early-Blair-years flurry of big-business funding for the Labour Party faded long ago, and shows no sign of returning. The rumoured recommendations are a big danger for Labour and for any union-based political effort. Plutocrats will be able to evade a £50,000 cap more easily by dividing up big donations into smaller ones ostensibly coming from the plutocrats’ family members, friends, and lackeys.
Maggie O’Boyle from the CSPL tells Solidarity that the Guardian story does not come from CSPL sources, so the actual CSPL report may differ from the rumours. Even if it doesn’t, the proposals can be stopped. Government handouts to political parties are not popular. The Tories and the Lib Dems are divided on these issues.
Dangerously, however, Ed Miliband said during the Labour leadership campaign, when questioned by the Financial Times (24 September 2010) and by the Left Foot Forward blog (9 September 2010), that he wanted to “make progress on party funding together with other parties”.
In October 2010, Ray Collins, who was then general secretary of the Labour Party, gave evidence to the CSPL — officially, on behalf of the Labour Party, though without consulting or informing Labour’s National Executive — recommending a smaller cap on donations.
The thinking was apparently that it would “clever” to wrongfoot the Tories by proposing a smaller cap.
The unions should demand a clear stand by Labour against capping, against increased state funding for political parties, and for the right of working-class organisations to gain political representation by collectively funding political parties.