You might have heard in the Budget given on 27th March that hot pasties will now be liable for VAT in the same way as other take-away food. The Labour leadership saw this as an excellent opportunity to portray the Chancellor and Prime Minister as out of touch fops, culminating in the Eds Miliband and Balls popping in to a branch of Greggs to buy some sausage rolls (Guardian video here). I bet the two Eds wish they'd been concentrating a bit more on the Bradford West by-election which took place the following day, though. Labour got absolutely turned over by George Galloway, with a Labour majority of more than 5,000 becoming a majority for Galloway of a bit over 10,000 (a swing of, wait for it, 37%). Guardian report here.
Watch your step then, Mr Miliband, with your leap on to the party funding bandwagon that is now rolling, courtesy of a secret recording that showed a Conservative party fundraiser offering private dinners with David Cameron and George Osborne in return for huge donations.
Miliband's proposal is that there will be a cap of £5,000 on donations to political parties. Now this will hurt both parties, but the Conservatives much more so, as a lot of Labour's funding comes from the individual political subscription fees that many union members pay to Labour. As I understand it, at the moment union members have to specifically request and then complete an opt-out form in order to avoid paying the political subscription, but wouldn't it be much fairer if you had to indicate positively that you wanted to contribute to Labour? Taking it further, why shouldn't trades unions administer donations to all political parties; why should I only be able to donate to Labour through union membership?
Don't get me wrong, I think there are problems with the way political parties are funded. I'm uncomfortable with wealthy individuals exerting significant influence over the Conservatives (and other parties) thanks to their donations that amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds. But I'm just as uncomfortable with the union grip on Labour, and I think Miliband is being hideously opportunistic with his cap proposal. It's got to be allied to reform of union donations, in my view.
I'll finish with the unsurprising news that the Unite union, one of Labour's main funders is very happy with Miliband's proposals, that will enable them to broadly carry on supporting Labour in the current way (link):
Unite supports Ed Miliband's efforts to restore faith in politics, and is pleased that the vital link between Labour and millions of working people is valued and will be retained.
Picture from the Daily Mirror