How To Fund Political Parties?


Labour funding: Well colour me astonished I had no idea that Labour had such a large advantage when it came to funding. I have a few vague notions of Tories rumblings about how unfair union funding was but I had never looked at the figures, but there they are in glorious technicolour from the Electoral Commission. The party has just over half a million members and is affiliated to most of the biggest unions. The membership numbers owe a lot to the Corbyn Effect, say what you like about the man, but credit where it’s due. Something comparable happened in the US with Bernie Saunders, a feat achieved mostly through micro funding. What a different place the world might look today had he been made president. The one thing we the people have is cashflow, sell the right idea to people and we will fund it. Yet, when you think about the figure of half a million doesn’t that seem tiny given our population?

Tory Funding: The Conservatives are funded principally through donations, a much narrower demographic and it’s the reason you are not a Tory as I wrote here. The Tories don’t publish membership figures as a matter of course but i dug them out from the House of Commons Library. The figure is just under one hundred and fifty thousand making it sound more like a fringe outfit like the Lib Dems, yet there they are in government and odds on to win the 2017 election… I think. The polls show everything from a hung parliament to 100+ seat majority to the Tories, so basically nobody has the first clue. The Tory party is of course funded billionaires, multi-millionaires and would mere millionaires please use the servants entrance. The mere millionaires tend to be MP’s and Cabinet Ministers all hoping to follow the trail blazed by Blair and mega money.

Naturally the Tories think it frightfully unfair that the great unwashed should organise like this and are determined to bring the unscrubbed to heel. This is the 2015 legislation introduced to further crush already pulverized unions. A jolly good thing too, some may say remember the 70’s and all those dreadful strikes? Yes I do though I’m not quite sure it was worth waging what amounted to a civil war against them. strikes do inconvenience people (that’s generally the point of them) and the law is carefully couched in terms of inconvenience to the public especially on transport systems. You can condense that down to London transport and especially the tube. It never occurs to the Daily telegraph that these workers may deserve paying properly or have the right to strike but then again they wouldn’t. As both the DT and the then interim leader Harriet Harman (not my favourite politician for the record) this was about money and union funding to Labour.

The DT argues that compulsory subscriptions from unions in the workplace are unfair and anti-democratic. There are Tory voters who are in unions, why should they pay their dues only to see them fund a party they don’t vote for? Union members will have to opt in to political payments every five years, sounds reasonable right? The unions would counter they represent everybody, it isn’t their fault the Tories are so anti worker and they are fairly promoting workplace interests. Sorry unions, I quite agree with the DT, I don’t like compulsion sell yourselves better. The DT approvingly quotes David Cameron (remember him?) as saying that the billionaires funding the Tories is fine because they do it by choice. Yes David, all is gas and gaiters, move along nothing to see here. I’ll park that for now, I’m sure they have no ulterior motives.

Here comes the twist in the tail because the unions have another implacable foe opposing union funding of politics in… the Labour party. The ultimate irony of that is many of these MPs may well be sponsored by unions, I don’t know for certain. The most common way to identify these MPs is that they won’t serve Corbyn. The reason they won’t serve him is not ideological it’s financial. Their problem isn’t that they feel they can’t sell Corbyn’s policies to the people, their problem is they can’t sell it to their backers. The true fulfilment of the New Labour project was to change the way labour is funded and to remove, once and for all, trade union funding. They want a completely free hand to deliver to deliver policies as sold to the people that favour them. Their name is Progress, the original funders of Blairism, they bought into the washington consensus, hook line and sinker.

Now Progress will tell you on their rather bland and vanilla site they are funded by Labour party members, you know the sort, various Lords, big business owners, pharmaceuticals, oil interests and of course The City. You know the usual Labour type typical of the party membership. It’s website proudly proclaims “We have been awarded– on three occasions now –  an ‘A’ rating for funding transparency by the independent Who Funds You? website”. I say chaps, jolly spiffing show but I hope you don’t mind me pointing out a few teething problems you had with the Electoral Commission. In 2014 Progress was fined £6,000 by the Electoral Commission for accepting donations of £390,000 from Lord Sainsbury while he was not on a UK electoral register, between December 2011 and April 2013 (Source Wikipedia). How careless.

Progress represents an effort to transform political funding into the American model. There the rich fund both parties and the American people have are rightly quite miffed about this. That was Bernie Saunders greatest feat, he almost broke that mould using micro donations. The Democrats then chose Hilary Clinton and America voted Trump, they voted for a change that will never be delivered, a bit like Brexit really. Trade Union money will become a nice to have but they will be in the back pockets of the billionaires with all the lucre that brings. Then those top 3 sources of income will look the same as each other in the above chart. So will the policies.

My next blog was to be on the dark funding of political parties but that will have to wait until another as I don’t fancy being chucked in the slammer for contempt of court. The hashtag #ToryDirtyMoney has more as does Carole Cadwalladr over at the Guardian.