Tuesday News Review

Party reform

Ed Miliband is to distance Labour from its trade union paymasters by diluting the party’s financial dependence on them and reducing their role in electing the party leader. Labour has proposed introducing a ceiling on donations to any political party which could be as low as £500, The Independent has learnt. The move could break the long-running deadlock between the parties on agreeing a new system of financing politics. Previous attempts to halt big donations have failed, partly because Labour was reluctant to give up its multimillion-pound gifts from the unions. But Mr Miliband is ready to gamble on Labour attracting thousands of small donations from individual supporters as part of a drive to take “big money” out of politics. He also wants to change Labour’s culture by allowing the public a vote when the party chooses its leader. He plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. MPs, trade unionists and party members would also each have a quarter of the votes in Labour’s electoral college. At present, MPs, union and party members each have a third of those votes. – The Independent

Gove put back in his box

The proportion of poor teenagers who go to university has been rising at a far higher rate than that of their better-off classmates, a statistical analysis by Labour shows. Between 2005 and 2007 the number of pupils receiving free school meals – a standard measure of poverty – who went to university jumped by 18% compared to a rise of 9% among pupils not entitled to free school meals. Some 10,060 pupils on free school meals started university in 2005. By 2007, the figure had risen to 11,905. Liz Kendall, the Labour MP for Leicester West, obtained the figures from answers to parliamentary questions. Statisticians originally matched data from the National Pupil Database to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency for 19-year-olds at university. The figures for 2007 are the latest available. Kendall said the figures hit back at a claim made by the education secretary, Michael Gove, in the Commons last month. Gove told MPs that “social mobility went backwards under Labour.” Kendall said the figures showed that during the last parliament the number of children from the poorest families who went to university “increased at a much faster rate than those not on free school meals.” – The Guardian

Policy popularity contest

The government is to follow the lead of The X Factor television programme and allow the public to decide on legislation to be put before MPs. In an attempt to reduce what is seen as a disconnection between the public and parliament, ministers will ensure that the most popular petition on the government website Direct.gov.uk will be drafted as a bill. It is also planning to guarantee that petitions which reach a fixed level of support – most likely 100,000 signatures – will be guaranteed a Commons debate. Ministerial sources acknowledge that the proposals have the potential to cause headaches for the coalition because populist causes célèbres – such as a return of capital punishment or withdrawal from the European Union – could come top of the list. – The Guardian

Ministers will seek agreement with the authorities, including the House of Commons Procedure Committee, to give the petitions parliamentary time. Those receiving most support – probably 100,000 signatures – would be debated, with some possibly becoming bills. But Labour said the plans would mean “crazy ideas” being discussed by MPs. The government intends to shut down the e-petitions part of the Number 10 website, which has been suspended since the general election, and open a similar facility on the Directgov website. – BBC

It was strongly criticised however by Paul Flynn, a Labour member of the Commons public administration committee. “This seems to be an attractive idea to those who haven’t seen how useless this has been in other parts of the world when it’s tried. If you ask people the question ‘do you want to pay less tax?’, they vote yes,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “If we get the e-petitions in there will be some asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be prime minister, for Jedi and Darth Vader to be the religions of the country. The blogosphere is not an area that is open to sensible debate; it is dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward.” – PA

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