9 July 2013

Political party funding: "A plague o' both your houses!"

I reprint this Peter Hitchens piece from the latest MoS because it stands as a monument to why we shouldn't give our allegiance to either of the two largest political parties. He reproduces it on his blog here and expands on it here.

I think it is time for the Tories to stop being so hoity-toity about the trade union grip on Labour. The Tory Party has a whopping great skeleton its cupboard which I am now going to pull out and wave about.

I promised to keep quiet about it nearly 30 years ago, and I’m still not naming my source. But Mr Cameron’s self-righteous attack on Labour has persuaded me that it’s time to come clean.

The Tory manifesto in 1983 pledged to do something about one of the worst scandals in British politics, the ‘political levy’ by which the unions take money from their members to put into their political funds. These funds are then used to buy influence in the Labour Party.

If you belong to most British unions, you pay into this unless you opt out. Many don’t even know they’re contributing. Others are afraid of drawing attention to themselves by opting out. As a result, millions of people give money to Labour without wanting to, via union political funds. And so they maintain the union stranglehold on British politics.

It needn’t be so. Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 manifesto promised to end this disgrace. If the unions wouldn’t sort it out, it said, ‘The Government will be prepared to introduce measures to guarantee the free and effective right of choice.’

She won with a huge majority. It was a mandate. So what happened? The then general secretary of the Labour Party, the late Jim Mortimer, approached the Tories through a special back-channel. Word was sent to the late Margaret Thatcher that she would be unwise to act on this pledge.

If she did, Mortimer warned, she might well destroy Labour and so – unintentionally - ensure that the Tories were beaten at the next election by the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

He added that if by any chance Labour survived, and came back to power, it would take a terrible revenge. It would pass laws to stop the Tories raising funds from business.

The ‘Iron Lady’ buckled and collapsed. For the sake of party advantage and short-term gain, the plan was dropped. A few feeble ballots were held instead, which hardly anyone noticed.

So Margaret Thatcher and her Tories actually saved the Labour Party from richly deserved oblivion. The disastrous 1997-2010 Blair-Brown government is their direct fault.

They also made sure that the unions would keep their thumb on the national windpipe for another 25 years and maybe much longer.

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