10 Jul 2013

Party funding wars and murky waters

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Ed Miliband’s team felt he got back on a steady footing after a battering at last week’s session over allegations of trade union stitch ups.

Ed Miliband tried to lay a trap for David Cameron – would he support a £5000 cap on donations to political parties? Would the PM support Labour’s emerging cap on outside interests for MPs?

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I understand Labour is thinking of setting it at around 15 per cent of a minister of state’s salary – that would make a cap of around £16,000 a year on outside earnings. MPs who practice law or hold company directorships would have to chuck in the second income. David Cameron wasn’t going near it.

Earlier, I spoke to the GMB general secretary Paul Kenny. He sounds like a man who thinks the union link is all but over.

He’s threatening to review the whole relationship and suggests that his union’s June 2014 conference could be decisive. He thinks that the numbers of GMB members who sign up to the membership lite offer will be puny, and that could leave Labour painfully short of cash and potentially dependent on business donations.

He says that he wouldn’t feel able to dole out money from the union’s remaining political fund in big cheques to Labour if hardly any of his members had opted in for membership lite.

Some people around Ed Miliband think this is a typical big union/Labour negotiation in play and you shouldn’t take it at face value.

The other thing these same sources say is that you shouldn’t take the Blairite embrace of Ed M’s reforms at face value either. They suspect ex-Blairite ministers of trying to raise the bar for Ed Miliband on party reform, deliberately over-stating the reforms so as to bind him to something that goes further than his own plans.

These are murky waters.

Last night, Ed Miliband attended a farewell bash for his brother David, off to exile in the US.

Ed Miliband was surrounded by the regime that might have been if David Miliband had won. Yesterday, it was these Blairite folk – long his sharpest critics – who praised his speech on party reform most loudly.

I wonder if he was reminded of Hugh Gaitskell after the 1962 “thousand years of history”  conference speech on Europe? Gaitskell was soaking up the applause when his wife Dora pointed out to him that the “wrong people” were clapping.

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