(Originally published in The Progressive Journal of London & an abridged version subsequently published on Liberal Conspiracy)
As an increasingly critical and frustrated Labour party member, I found Ed Miliband’s comments about the thorny issue of party funding today quite pleasing. I’m tired of party advocates squirming in front of TV cameras as Tories bully them into condemning every strike ballot, and launch jibes about the fact that the party is largely funded by organised workers.
It is clear for all to see that the Tories couldn’t give damn about radical reform of our political system and overhaul of its culture of dependency. They only care about turning this debate into an opportunity to further bind the hands of free and democratic trade unions.
The Tories want a cap of £50,000 on donations, and they want to include union donations within that proposed rule. If this were to come into force it could quite literally starve the Labour party out of effective operation as a political voice for working people.
The Tories, consumed by panic at the grassroots and backbench levels at the realisation that they are being led by arrogant incompetents know this. They are keenly aware of the rising tide of derision and hatred cast toward them as a result of misguided and ideological swipes at the welfare state and public sector that the vast majority of the electorate rely on daily. To choke off the natural home of that massed, disenchanted voice would prevent the very real possibility of electoral disaster for them, come 2015.
There lies a lot of merit in Miliband’s proposals. Allowing personal party donations of £5000, and a union levy of £3 per member to be donated to Labour, with individuals also able to donate separately upto the specified £5000 limit would maintain the strong and proud links between the unions, and the party they created over a century ago. It would still generate revenue for the party, as well as maintaining its accountability to organised workers.
In addition to this, it would set the unions a challenge of enthusing and motivating their members to join and donate to Labour, thereby forcing them to up their game and increase their engagement with their members, strengthening the link between union and party, increasing membership, consolidating the democratic mandate for real change that people so badly want, as well as channelling the organisational expertise of trade unions into local communities.
Despite being an interesting ideological joust in an increasingly homogenised political theatre, this issue speaks to a wider topic.
With every policy announcement and benefit reform, with every tax reform and fiscal initiative, this government is showing itself to be more and more feckless, bereft of ideas and glued together only by a collective disdain for the poor, the public sector and the organised left.
The current crisis within which we find ourselves was caused by the very people the Tory party was formed to represent, and it is ignorant to the hands of those who do not feed it. To cater for the interests of the wider populous is not an option because it does not earn money, or win the party votes.
The Tories cannot see a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve scapegoating the poor, the public sector and the organised left, because to do so would render it an enemy of its natural bedfellows, hence the government playing footsy with the banking sector and big business.
Labour must start presenting a coherent strategy for dealing with the structural deficit in a calm, ordered way, as well as preserving the dignity and base living standards of the poorest and most vulnerable.
Overall, we must win the argument of whether there truly is an alternative to this car crash of a government by taking the electorate on a journey of policy guided by principle, aspiration and sound economics.
Ending the party strategy of treating the trade unions like an embarrassing uncle, and instead treating them like respected and loved best friends would be a great start. Looking at ways of channelling investment into regional infrastructure, possibly through future rounds of quantitative easing or a National Infrastructure Bank, revitalising local government by the expansion of elected mayors, as well as maximising the spread of candidates from working class backgrounds would further bolster Labour’s journey back to power by consolidating our mandate to fight for those attacked at their most vulnerable by this foolish government of millionaires.
Every journey begins with the first step: Labour’s first step should be to proudly and publically embrace the cherished link between organised Labour and political advocacy, put an end to the automatic condemnation of organised workers exercising their legal and human right to democratically decide to withdraw labour, and to stop flinching at the wagging finger of the increasingly rabid and Dickensian right, and the editors of The Daily Mail and The Sun.