The left should welcome Ed Miliband’s stance on Party funding….
I am not a huge fan of this leadership, as any regular reader will know. However, I do believe that when Ed Miliband gets something basically right, that should be acknowledged and supported, even by those who wish to maintain a critical perspective and distance. He is right about Party funding essentially and he is right to insist that the proposed £5,000 donation cap should apply to the big election-time donations that trade unions frequently make. As Mark Ferguson rightly points out on LabourList this is a cunning defence of the living link, the one that really matters, between trade unionists and the Party. It is this link and maintenance of this that should concern the left; not the size of cheques unions write for Labour at election time because this link is far from living, it’s the dead one of mutual dependency and fear and does little to benefit either Labour or the unions.
From Labour’s point of view, the big money cheques are less politically defensible than the ones established through the affiliated fund and from the unions part of view they are money tossed away because it is given with precious little return. In that sense, the trade unions would be better advised spending their money elsewhere in any case, maybe on independent campaigning/lobbying and/or on local campaigns with Labour candidates they feel they are better able to trust and deliver. Besides, with the various motions going forward at union conferences this summer, there is no guarantee that these cheques would even continue to be written without the proposed cap in place.
Given all this, the response of some on the left to Ed Miliband’s proposals have been mind-boggling. I can only suggest they are a conservative hostility to any kind of change whatsoever, a raison d’être that is poisonous to the forward-thinking and partisanship of constant change that should be the left’s true spiritual motif. Ed’s proposals are more incomplete than fundamentally mistaken. I would like to see more consideration given to measures that cut the cost of politics, like subsidised mail-shoots and advertising space, measures that would level the playing field even more and encourage the growth of a healthy pluralism in our politics. However, the ‘big three’ never seem to suggest these policies, for obviously self-interested reasons. Nonetheless, this criticism aside, Ed’s policies taken as a whole are a step-forward and not in any way shape or form a ‘threat to the Labour-union link’ as some on the left have painted them. Indeed, they are an opportunity to bring much positive change to that relationship and restore something of a healthy vitality to it. So, without question the left should welcome them, rather than spit its collective dummy out of the pram and be the reactionary, small ‘c’ conservative force, it seems to so sadly revel in being.