Time to learn from the union link in funding politics

by Ian Stewart

Every time there is a donor scandal in British politics, Whether its Ecclestone or an oligarch’s yacht, the same old arguments for state funding rise, Lazarus-like from their tomb. No doubt since Sunday, Lib Dems have been muttering to their dwindling band of friends that all this will go away if we had a system like Germany.

It is a tempting argument, well made by Mary Ann Sieghart earlier this week in the Independent. Many inside progressive politics are no doubt swayed by its siren call. Yet like so many centrist arguments favoured by political nerds, this one has some gapng holes:

Hole 1:  Germany has had state funding since the 1950s, yet corruption and bribery still happen. The massive “Lockheed scandal” of the 1970s forced politicians and Luftwaffe Generals to resign over the purchase of the starfighter warplane. Germany now apparently requires companies to state what they have spent on buying political influence, so that they can levy a “bribes tax” (hmm… thinking about this one…)

Hole 2:  The old Soviet Bloc had state funding for its token “Opposition” parties in the GDR, Poland et al. Anyone see any good that came of that? No? Lets move on…

Hole 3: Politicians are about as popular as leprosy. Do we want more of our taxes spent on them?

Hole 4: The state is not always neutral. State funding of political parties could take away some of our independence and ability to propose radical new policies.

Hole 5: Why should a Labour supporter help fund the LibDems/Tories/UKIP/BNP/Respect… or indeed anybody else? Why should a Scottish Labour supporter fund the SNP? That’s what Brian Souter is for.

Hole 6: For Labour, it further weakens the trades union link, and Progress are in favour of it.

Yet I think I may have found an acceptable solution to the morass, without using our taxes to pay for Tory central office:

Firstly. A cap on spending during elections – no party may spend more than a given amount per voter, both nationally and in constituencies. If we had fixed terms, then we could also limit the amount spent up to six months before the campaign starts. This could be expanded to include organisations other than political parties that may want to back any candidate.

Politics in general should take a leaf out of the Labour movement’s book. Under present laws, a union member can decide to opt out of paying into the political fund at any time, and every three years they get to vote on the political affiliation of their Union.

At election times, Unite and Unison produce their own campaign literature and posters, clearly stating who they are, and who they support.

Imagine Tesco, BAe or Barclays having to ask their full and part-time employees, as well as shareholders, the same question. Do they all want to have profits that they help make given to a political cause that they may be against?

There should be transparency in political funding. We all know which party Unite supports. How about the names of major donors appearing on campaign posters and literature that they donate, about 1/3 the size of the candidates or parties name?  “The Liberal Democrats – brought to you by one of the Sainsburys”

The same would go for lobbying groups.

Individual donations should be capped – how about £100,000 per electoral cycle? This would bring down dining costs in Westminster at a stroke, and save Lord Ashcroft and Brian Souter millions.

Finally, all organisations that wish to donate to political parties in the UK must be registered for tax within the UK. This is actually the law – you have to be on the Electoral Roll to donate, but, as Peter Cruddas seemed to admit, nobody checks this too hard.

Businesses must declare their donations, not only to shareholders, but as part of their annual accounts. All individuals should be tax-paying residents of the UK or EU.

As Alan B’stard once said, ”no representation without taxation!”

Ian Stewart is a Labour party member who rejoined in May 2010 and blogs at http://clemthegem.wordpress.com/

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One Response to “Time to learn from the union link in funding politics”

  1. Sally Burr says:

    Best article I’ve read so far on the whole issue.

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