The Tories have suffered another humiliating defeat at the hands of the Lords. This time, over their plans to strip Labour of £6m a year of funds.
The assault on Labour funding, contained within the trade union bill, changes the way unions collect political contributions. If the bill was introduced in its current form, union members would have to opt in to paying the contribution, rather than opting out. This would mean a catastrophic lack of funds for Labour, as unions provide around 20% of Labour’s funding.
Peers voted by 327 votes to 234 to set up a special committee to scrutinise the bill further.
Labour’s leader in the Lords, Angela Smith, who tabled the motion said:
Our genuinely-held concern is that this aspect of the Bill will have a significant impact on the resources of one major political party – my party, the Labour Party. And in doing so, it will both disrupt the political balance in the UK and have a damaging effect on the electoral process and our democracy.
Lib Dem peers also backed Smith’s motion. Lib Dem peer Paul Tyler said:
The Lords have stopped the Government from getting away with this blatant manipulation of the rules.
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The Tories must not be given a free ride to remould our democracy in their favour.
Even some Conservative peers couldn’t stomach their own party’s distaste for democracy, defying David Cameron in voting to reconsider the bill. Michael Forsyth said:
I do think we are provoking a confrontation here which will do none of us any good, and will certainly not do the political system any good.
Undermining Labour’s union funding comes on top of chancellor George Osborne already cutting state funding for opposition parties last November.
This is particularly outrageous as the Tories already have an advantage over other parties when it comes to money. The Conservatives spent £3.5m more than Labour in their 2015 election campaign.
Tory party funding is also largely sourced from elite, unaccountable plutocrats who expect to be rewarded for their contribution, often at the expense of the general public. The Tories received around £19m from 27 of the richest asset managers in 2015. In 2013, their biggest donor was a hedge fund founder, Michael Farmer, who splashed out over £2m. Rich donors like these know bankrolling the Tories is a worthwhile investment: Britain’s richest 1000 families have more than doubled their net worth since the economic crisis.
Elites bankrolling the Tory party is a further insult to democracy, as the electoral reform society revealed on 20 January that 77% of the public are fed up with the influence big donors have on party politics.
It is not just attacking the funds of other parties that betrays the Tories’ contempt for democracy – they are also seeking to gerrymander electoral boundaries in order to carve out more Conservative-leaning constituencies. An election that has been rigged to heavily favour a certain party is just fascism with a new hat on.
Meanwhile, in a nod to democracy, Labour’s John McDonnell is considering expanding worker cooperatives. Instead of distant shareholders influencing and profiteering from companies, workers could own a meaningful stake in their own institutions. Cameron tries to smear these policies with soundbites suggesting Labour “will take Britain back to the 1970s”. Yet this is no throwback to statist ‘socialism’, but a modern attempt to democratise the economy. In fact, it is the Tories that are trying to take us back in time – to the 1930s, with their assault on the NHS and other public services.
This is not the first instance of the Lords slapping down aggressive Tory policies in recent times. Osborne endured a crushing defeat on tax credits cuts last October, and the government were defeated again in November over giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the EU referendum. These defeats are all the more humiliating given that Cameron stuffed the upper house with disproportionately more Tory peers last summer.
Gerrymandering boundaries to sculpt a one-party state, undermining the funding of the official opposition, and slicing the finances of smaller parties while receiving their own funds from unaccountable plutocrats who expect to be well-rewarded – these are about a hundred nails in the coffin for any Tory appeal to democracy. Fortunately, at least in this instance, they have been defeated.
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