Miliband's Reforms Will Improve British Politics

The Independent (London, England), December 28, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Miliband's Reforms Will Improve British Politics


Leading Articles Labour

The financing of political parties in Britain has long been in need for reform. The idea that everyone should have the right to contribute whatever they want to the party of their choice sounds fine in principle. In practice, it leads to monstrous distortions, with both Labour and the Conservatives benefiting almost exclusively from their cosy connections to unions and big business, respectively.

Labour under Ed Miliband proposes to end this unhealthy political culture by introducing a cap on donations far lower than anything that the Tories have tabled. With Mr Miliband's support, Ray Collins, Labour's general-secretary, has told Parliament's Committee on Standards in Public Life that the party would support a cap as low as 500.

This might sound like a counter-intuitive suggestion, coming from Ed, as opposed to David, Miliband. The unions were decisive in securing Mr Miliband the party leadership, and unions remain Labour's biggest donors by far. A financial cap of this kind would at a stroke significantly reduce their influence over policy. At the very least, therefore, the latest proposal shows that Mr Miliband sees beyond these parochial considerations and understands that it is undemocratic for his, or any, party to be so wholly dependent on a single financial source.

In Labour's case, it is not simply that reliance on a drip-feed of money from the unions skews the internal debate on important questions such as strikes. Just as dangerous is the sense of apathy it encourages about recruiting new members, without which any party is bound to fossilise.

Mr Miliband's other proposed reform is to change the Labour leadership elections rules, again reducing union influence, freeing up space for non-party members to have a voice. Instead of an electoral college composed equally of three elements - the unions, MPs and party members - there would now be four, an extra 25 per cent of votes going to interested outsiders.

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