LABOUR leader Ed Miliband fought back over claims that his party is in hock to the unions yesterday, accusing the Tories of being “the party of a few millionaires” during a heated Prime Minister’s Questions.
After a fortnight of exchanges, when Mr Miliband was on the back foot over Unite’s alleged attempts to fix the selection of the Labour candidate for Falkirk, he used the scandal as a platform to take the initiative on party funding.
He proposed a £5,000 cap on each donation and called for an end to MPs having second jobs. Both proposals were rejected by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mr Miliband pointed out that the Tories has received £25 million from hedge fund firms which benefited from a £145m tax cut in the budget.
“Is it a coincidence?” he asked.
He urged the Tory leader to reopen stalled talks on party funding reform.
But Mr Cameron said all Tory donations were declared, and warned that a cap could cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.
“Here are the figures – £8m from Unite, £4m from GMB, £4m from Unison. They have bought the policies, they have bought the candidates and they have bought the leader,” he said.
“I have long supported caps on donations. I think we should have caps on donations and they should apply to trade unions, to businesses and to individuals. But let me be frank with you, there’s a problem with a £5,000 cap. It is this – it would imply a massive amount of taxpayer support for political parties.
“Frankly, I don’t see why the result of a trade union scandal should be every taxpayer in the country paying for Labour.”
On second jobs, Mr Miliband said: “Current rules allow MPs to take on paid directorships and consultancies, as long as they are declared in the Register of Members’ Interests. I say in the next parliament MPs should not be able to take on new paid directorships and consultancies.”
Mr Cameron then offered Mr Miliband the chance to change the rules when the bill on lobbying and third-party funding comes to parliament before recess, which could see union members opting in to membership of Labour rather than automatically paying their affiliation fees. The Prime Minister added: “I think what matters is that everything is transparent and open. If you want change, I make you this offer – there is a bill coming to the House of Commons next week covering trade unions.
“Now, if you want to legislate from opting out to opting in, if you want to give union member the chance to choose whether to donate, to vote on whether to give to Labour, we will legislate. Will you accept that offer of legislation, yes or no?” Mr Miliband did not answer, telling Mr Cameron he needed to respond to his own question on whether he would support a limit on second jobs.
He said the public would “expect nothing less” than a limit on how much MPs can earn from outside jobs.
Labour backbenchers highlighted donations from millionaires to the Tories and focused on Foreign Secretary William Hague. Shadow Treasury minister Cathy Jamieson asked whether Tullow Oil chief executive Aidan Heavey’s donations to the Tories had influenced Mr Hague’s intervention in a tax dispute involving the company.
Meanwhile, shadow foreign minister Ian Lucas asked about Mr Hague’s links with JCB.
But Mr Cameron said donations to the Tories did not buy influence and accused Labour of talking down British businesses.