The vexed issue has a history that is even longer than Professor John Curtice suggested (Analysis, same day). This year is the 100th anniversary of the Trade Union Act 1913. The act finally gave legal backing to the right of trade unions in Britain to establish political funds and to use them for defined purposes (including backing party candidates).
It also established the right of individual trade union members to contract out of paying the political levy to their union. Conservative Stanley Baldwin’s government in the 1920s changed the law to require individual members to contract in to paying the levy. Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1946 changed the law back to the 1913 position.
Significantly, the House of Commons in the 1980s voted strongly against a return to contracting-in despite Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government having a majority well into three figures.
Perhaps it saw an essential unfairness in depriving Labour of a key source of income while the Conservatives could then rely on support from many businesses.
The Falkirk constituency ballot-rigging allegations have shown up a deeply unpleasant aspect of Labour. Mr Miliband needs to oversee a candidate selection process that is above reproach.
But he needs to show leadership not by tearing up a system of political funding that in the main has worked well. He needs to show it by making clear that abuse of the system is unacceptable, that trade union leaders, however influential, will be held to account, and that openness, transparency and integrity will be the hallmarks of the way Labour selects its candidates.
As a lifelong member of the SNP – dating back to a time long before the party held any power whatsoever – the idea of a electing a leader who would tell the party members what to do is quite alien to me.
Alex Salmond represents the SNP membership.
He does not dictate what they should do/not do or think/not think.
It appears, however, that in order to prove himself as a leader Ed Miliband is expected to “crack down” on the unions.
Trades unions are made up of people who are ordinary voters and who have a perfect right to demand and expect their leaders to protect and secure their interests. This is quite different from Lord Sainsbury, whose political donations may be made to represent his shareholders’ interests, the majority of whom are not individuals but institutions.
The Labour Party would never have existed had it not been for the trades union movement, and the idea that “cracking down” on the people who finance the party is in some way symbolic of leadership runs contrary to most people’s idea of democracy.
Leaders are elected to listen. Leaders who dictate are called something else