Keeping political funding clean

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It looks like we’re shortly to return to all of the unallayed joy of a debate on party political funding, with the progress through the House this session of the new Political Parties and Elections Bill.

A number of MPs seem to be stepping up pressure to tighten the bill as it currently stands. Gordon Prentice is one such MP, who is seeking to prevent tax exiles from donating money to parties.

Given that non-UK residents are currently excluded from giving donations, this appears to be a sensible move: apart from anything else, if we are to be serious about discouraging tax-exile status there need to be some negative consequences for those who keep their money abroad for tax purposes.

Also on this point – there will undoubtedly be noises from the Tories about Trade Union donations to political parties, especially as moves against Lord Ashcroft’s millions extend from discussion of tax exile status towards limiting the size of donations.

Trade Unions are clearly different to either businesses or individuals. For a start, they are voluntary social movements: as such they are better considered not as monolithic institutions, but as many thousands of people voluntarily standing together.

Not only that, but their membership and finances are already heavily regulated (in a manner most Tories would consider to be highly intrusive if applied to private businesses). There is no iron law that binds Trade Unions to the Labour Party either: Trade Unions could, in theory, affiliate to (and donate some of the contents of their political funds to) other parties, including the Tories (if they really wanted to).

That they choose not to says more about how other parties serve the interests of the members of these democratic institutions than it does about the actions of individual Trade Unions, and unions should not be blamed for that: in fact, the continued and active participation of the great social movements of the last two hundred years in politics should be heartily celebrated.

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