This Government is getting too big for their electoral boots.

Late last night there was support across the whole House for the report of the Select Committee into the Trade Union Bill, on which I served. I originally suggested this Committee to prevent the Tories attacking the union funding of the Labour Party while ignoring their own dependence on millionaire donors, despite manifesto promises to adopt a balanced approach to party funding.

The Minister however did not indicate any progress on this, so I politely reminded her that that this Government have been getting a bit “too big for their electoral boots”. After all, they were supported by fewer than a quarter of those eligible to vote last May. Unlike the Coalition, for example, this is no way near a majority Government and therefore it behoves them to be very careful in approaching issues of this sort.

The Government has insisted at all stages of the Bill that it is nothing to do with party funding. The cross-party Select Committee unanimously agreed that this was not the case. We agreed, again unanimously, that piecemeal reform was not good enough and that there should be significant changes to the way ALL Political Parties are funded:

“Whether or not clause 10 is enacted, in whatever form, the political parties should live up to their manifesto commitments and make a renewed and urgent effort to seek a comprehensive agreement on party funding reform. We urge the Government to take a decisive lead and convene talks itself, rather than waiting for them to emerge.”

Overall the Committee was only divided on one issue, timing. Even here the clear majority favored an explicit omission of all existing trade union members from the opt-in provisions of the Bill unless and until this issue could be considered in the context of wider party funding negotiations.

The public are understandably suspicious of the big donor culture and the possibility of wealthy parties ‘buying’ seats in the House of Commons. This was endorsed in evidence to the Select Committee from the Electoral Reform Society, whose polling in October 2015 found that 72% of the public believed that the current system of party funding was;

“corrupt and should be changed”.

This was further enforced by the Electoral Reform Society research which found that:

“77% believe that big donors have too much influence over political parties”,

At a time where we are trying to restore public confidence in politics, this is simply not good enough!

It is often said that where there is a will there is a way. The speed and success with which our Select Committee reached unanimous agreement on so many issues shows that there is potential for progress in this area. The parties have all recognised the urgent need for reform in repeated election promises; now Ministers and party leaders have an opportunity to follow brave words at election time with effective action. It is time for balanced legislation to reform party funding not just for one party—Labour—but for all parties in our political system.

 

My full speech is available here 

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