The howls from various parts of the Left against the Government’s new proposals on trade unions are very revealing.
The twin requirements – for a 50 per cent turnout for a strike to be legal, and for union members to have to opt in to contribute to the political funds – threaten to reveal that the Emperors of the union movement are completely naked. No-one can deny that their organisations have millions of members, but the pretence that those members join out of enthusiasm for strike action or a willingness to fund the barons’ political pursuits is about to be exposed.
If the union leaders’ stances on strikes and on political spending were truly representative of their members then these reforms would pose them no problem. Do most of your members want a strike? Well over half of them will turn up to a ballot and vote for it. Do all of your members join with the intention of funding the Labour Party, or giving their cash to astro-turf political organisations, rather than simply to gain access to sensible advice and representation in the workplace? No doubt they’ll all tick the box to give their money to the political fund – no problems.
Except we know that won’t happen – if McCluskey et al really were so in tune with their membership then they wouldn’t have any reason to object as the reforms would mean business as usual. Instead, we’ll most likely see fewer strike ballots called, the failure of various unrepresentative ballots that do go ahead and a fall in the amount of workers’ money pouring into the political funds.
Both changes make for a more democratic, consensual system, and have the happy bonus of weakening the funding going to Labour and a variety of blogs, think tanks and pressure groups who all act as convenient mouthpieces for the union leaders.
But that can only be one half of the equation when it comes to reforming party funding; we must also look to change our own funding model. Paul has written before about the idea of the Party adopting a voluntary cap on donations of £50,000 as a way to stem the steady flow of corrosive stories linking the Toryism to the rich. That’s just one aspect of the Conservatives’ reputational problem, but it’s a major element of it.
Whether a voluntary cap happens or not, the new review of the party’s structures and membership being led by Rob Halfon should have as one of its goals the development of a new funding model. The eventual goal must be to raise large amounts of money from a wider base of smaller donations – in other words, working out how to get the “Shy Tories” to open their wallets.