The Trade Union Bill, and getting party funding reform right

The issue of how our parties are funded is at the core of Parliamentary democracy. And today, peers in the House of Lords are debating a major change to the current system in the Trade Union Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.

The change is a major one – but it’s one-sided. By insisting in the Bill that union members should ‘opt-in’ to unions’ political funds, the Government will effectively be cutting Labour’s funding by £6m a year.

Party funding reform is a crucial issue. The Electoral Reform Society can reveal today that 77% of the public believe big donors have too much influence on political parties.

In fact, the Trade Union Bill could be the start of a process which sorts out our hopeless party funding system for good. The public are sick to death of the perceived influence of big donors on parties – and that includes the influence of unions on Labour as well as wealthy private individuals on the Conservatives. A cap on individual donations is one of the measures needed for a cleaner party funding system. Under an opt-in system the money provided to Labour by unions effectively comes from many individuals rather than one ‘baron’, which should make Labour more open to a donations cap.

But we badly need a cross-party deal on party finance reform. Otherwise it simply isn’t sustainable. This stuff can’t be done in isolation against one party, or else we could see decades of unsustainable retaliations as parties get into power and attack their opponents’ source of funding.

Our polling released today also shows that 72% of the public agree or strongly agree that the system of party funding is ‘corrupt and should be changed’ – up from 61% when the same question was asked in 2014.

57% also believe that a ‘state-funded political system would be fairer than the one we currently have’ – up from 41% in 2014.

Fundamentally, campaigners such as ourselves are concerned that the Trade Union Bill is currently one-sided in its approach to reforming Labour’s funding, undermining the ‘Churchill convention’ (named after the man himself) that matters directly affecting political parties be dealt with in a multi-party manner.

But what today’s polling shows is that the public are deeply concerned with Britain’s broken party funding model. Party finances in the UK are in dire need of reform, following years of scandals and voters’ rising disgust about the role of money in our politics.

There’s growing appetite for reforming the way parties are funded, and you can see this among people from across the political spectrum. Measures in the Trade Union Bill to ensure union members have to ‘opt in’ to pay into political funds could form part of a fresh settlement.

But by targeting Labour and not tackling the issue in the round, the Government is risking decades of parties indulging in tit-for-tat raids on each other’s sources of funds. We need all parties to get around the table and deal with this once and for all. Frankly, there is no other way of finding a sustainable solution and avoiding accusations of constitutional gerrymandering.

Now is the time for all parties to get to grips with the mess that is Britain’s party funding system. The fact is, Labour is seen by the public to be at the behest of barons, and the Tories at the behest of bankers. All parties need to tackle the big donor culture which makes party funding an arms race rather than an open democratic process.

The ERS are calling on Peers to back the motion today to set up a cross-party committee on the Trade Union Bill, so that it can form part of a new settlement on party finances across the board.

In 2014 the ERS published ‘Deal or No Deal: How to put an end to party funding scandals’. Read the full report and recommendations here.


Saturday’s TUC march showed unions are needed more than ever

Credit: Steve Cooke


Nick Clegg received an unusual York welcome on Saturday.

Over 3000 anti-austerity protesters marched for ‘A Better Way’ through York to greet the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference being held at the Barbican.

As the Deputy Prime Minister spoke in favour of his motion on immigration, hundreds stood outside the building – a building which York’s Lib Dem council closed while it was last in control of the authority – to vent their anger at the cuts to public services, privatisation and other policies which hit the poorest hardest. Needless to say, the marchers’ chants, boos and cries of ‘shame’ reflected this palpable and genuine rage.

It was rage at everything from the Lib Dem’s propping up the Conservatives in government, to the tuition fee betrayal (Clegg’s crocodile tears notwithstanding), the bedroom tax, the back-door sell-off of the NHS to private companies and – judging by the presence of university lecturers and their UCU union – the dismal state of higher education under this government, with course and department closures, real-terms pay cuts and increasing marketisation.

This was a feeling expressed by the many students on the march too – a bloc that reflected the more radical spectrum of the protest. York’s Socialist Students made an effigy of Nick Clegg himself, hanged off the city walls, alongside a ‘Welcome to Traitor’s Gate’ banner. A grim sight for delegates to behold, in a wealthy former-Lib Dem city where they probably expected a friendlier reception amid Labour authority unpopularity. No such luck.

The TUC-organised demo couldn’t have chosen its day to be more symbolic. Saturday marked International Women’s Day. That very morning, delegates were hit with headlines of ‘Osborne’s tax and benefits changes hit women almost four times harder than men’. Not the best way for the previously centre-left party to celebrate IWD. But who wouldn’t have predicted that the three-year freeze in child benefit would have hit women hardest? Or that the cut in the top rate of tax for millionaires mostly helps rich white men?

Speakers at the rally after the march were quick to point this out. All ten speakers were women – a figure that contrasts sharply with the Lib Dems current level of gender representation. The figure hasn’t been picked up upon, but those 10 northern speakers are more than the Lib Dem’s current number of female MPs in the whole of the UK – and certainly more than at the next election after a number of announcedfemale resignations . Most inspiringly, leading the march were strikers (almost entirely women) from Care UK in Doncaster – workers who have just finished a week-long strike against the company to which their jobs were recently handed over to by the council. They’re facing pay cuts of up to 50% in an attempt to boost profits – and they’re fighting back.

Thirty years on from the miners’ strike, it’s a reminder that unions still matter. In fact, the whole protest – amid hundreds of union flags and banners – served to prove that trade unions, in standing up for the hardest-hit by austerity, are actually more needed than ever in the face of the neoliberal onslaught that is this coalition government (and don’t think the austerity will end with Labour, either). Indeed, the TUC collected 52 full carrier bags of food at the demonstration for local food banks under strain from the weight of a cost of living crisis.

Saturday’s march showed that, with over six million members – the majority of whom are now women – and the ability to mobilise thousands in the cause of social justice, unions still pack a punch. But with just 13% of 16-24 year olds members of what are still the largest democratic civil society bodies, perhaps the biggest message was that our generation needs to get organised. Otherwise, the current austerity measures could be ‘permanent’, to use Cameron’s word.

On Sunday, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are planning to wave Clegg off as he leaves the city. Given the welcome he got, and the goodbye he’ll receive, he may well get the message that York – with its large student population alongside those hit by benefit cuts – isn’t such a big fan of the Lib Dems, after all.

Credit: Steve Cooke

Credit: Steve Cooke

‘March’ – a song for the TUC’s ‘A Future That Works’ Demonstration

There aren’t enough modern political songs. Especially not about this government. In a feeble aim to fill part of that massive gap I’ve written a song in support of the TUC march for A Future that Works, being held on the 20th October in London. The song is part of a project called ‘Make The March‘, which encourages artistic and musical work to promote the demonstration, as well as new talent (and of course opposition to austerity).

Five works will be picked out by comedian Josie Long and artists Bob and Roberta Smith, the most ‘shared’ of which will win £100. So if you think it’s any good, please share the song (even if you’re not keen on the song itself!). Half the dosh in the unlikely chance I win will be given to the Green Party, who I believe are the only serious political party to support a real alternative to austerity based on green jobs, fair taxation and an end to costly wars and nuclear weapons.

Anyway. Share it around by going to the Make The March page here and Tweeting/Facebook-ing it. Ignore the poor iPhone recording. It’s a small contribution to enraged-British-youth political music, but a contribution nonetheless. See you on the streets!

You can find out more about Make the March here.

Plymouth May Day Sees Over 100 March Against Austerity

Over 100 trade unionists and local people marched through Plymouth yesterday for the May Day festival, despite the heavy rain. Drawing together activists from groups as diverse as Incineration is Wrong and the Socialist Party, the event was (for the most part) a great display of unity.

John McDonnell MP, one of Labour’s staunchest left-wing members of parliament, led the march with Tony Staunton, head of the Plymouth Trades Council. At least a dozen travelled down from Cornwall, including myself, and several from St Austell and Liskeard. The march through Plymouth picked up a lot of support from passers by, plus the constant beeping of car-horns in solidarity.

John spoke about the Con-Dem government’s slashing of pensions and jobs, which more and more are beginning to realise amounts to class-war. The rally at the Roland Lavinsky building also saw speakers from the Labour Party, the PCS and other groups.

Later on in the afternoon (when the weather had picked up – just our luck), Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine was screened in the university cinema. It was hugely eye-opening, and worth watching even if you’ve read the book. It outlines the right-wing tactic of utilising any crisis to impose unrestrained capitalism upon vulnerable countries – Iraq (more bombing in one day from US than whole of Gulf War), Russia (Chicago Boys and Yeltsin privatising industries at devastating speed), and pretty much all of Latin America. Most of it inspired by Milton Friedman. Thatcher’s attacks on the working-class were just a continuation of the ‘shock doctrine’, as well as Reagan’s ‘reforms’. And yes, we’re seeing it post-crash in Britain and the rest of Europe.

The day finished off with an anti-cuts gig at the Voodoo Lounge, which was a good laugh. Except the fact that the last train back from Plymouth on a Saturday is 9:55, cutting short the evening. Alas, denationalised rail services.

It’s a shame there isn’t a Cornwall TUC to organise something similar in Cornwall. Nonetheless, there are plenty of events coming up over the next few weeks to make up for it, most of which I’ll post on here.

May Day Festival in Plymouth – Celebrate Workers’ Day before the Tories scrap it!

Plymouth May Day Festival

From the LRC website:

Saturday 30th April 2011
11:00am to 6:00pm

Organised by Plymouth Trades Council and Plymouth Fightback Against the Cuts

Trade Unions for a Sustainable Future / Campaigning to Stop the Cuts

Trade Union Rights


  • May Day Procession: 12 midday, Plymouth Guildhall, Armada Way
  • Rally in the Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University at 1pm with John McDonnell MP
  • Campaign Stalls, Music & Film

Contact details: www.plymouth-tuc.org.uk or Tel: 01752 298834

A4 Mayday Festival Flyer


Cornwall Anti-Cuts are thinking of having our own May Day rally, but there are a few obstacles (road closures, stewarding, march routes etc.) which need sorting out before it can be confirmed.

The Plymouth event, until then, looks like it will be a great day. Plus, you can’t go wrong with John McDonnell. Absolute hero.

From Inside the Trafalgar Square Kettle – My View on the Night of #March26

There have already been a large number of reports on the Trafalgar Square incident after the half a million strong anti-cuts demonstration on March 26. But after a number of posts (such as the one by Penny Red) about the night which do not give the full picture, I want to say what I saw.

The day itself was of course incredible. Completely peaceful, the march continued for hours before winding up some time in the early afternoon. We had heard about the Occupy for the Alternative event that UK Uncut was planning and so headed down for that at around 2pm. When we got there, many shops were already shut by the police, with dozens standing outside Vodafone, Topshop, BHS etc. I saw very little smashed glass and very little damage – a bit of paint on some buildings was all that marred most of their exteriors. The smaller Boots on Oxford Street had been shut down and turned into a singing hospital. I joined in and the atmosphere was positive. Up the road, a guitarist was playing anti-cuts tunes with a huge crowd in a circle around him. Even the police were laughing.

Despite rumours of violent anarchism, some of which I’m sure were true, we only saw people standing around enjoying the Uk Uncut actions. Many walking past applauded, while international media spoke to people dressed up as doctors staging direct action.

Hyde Park at Night

As darkness fell we walked to Hyde Park, where a Stay for One Day event was taking place. Around 200 people were there drinking, playing drums and sitting around fires. We got chatting to a few people there who wanted to see what Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly were like as we heard helicopters overhead.  The crowd at Hyde Park were largely of the ‘Lawful Rebellion’ sort, mostly hippies and generally peaceful anarchists (by that I mean those who don’t believe in the legitimacy of the state, not people randomly smashing things). This group had planned to camp there overnight, and although myself and my girlfriend had sleeping bags we decided to check out Trafalgar after hearing 2000 were there partying.

Trafalgar Square – From Rave to Rampage

So we arrived at Trafalgar Square at around 8 or 9pm – and at that point the mood was incredibly. Very few police, very little disorder, several fires and a samba band filled the square alongside the 2000 others there. A bit of drunkenness but no aggression at this point. Then not long after 9 we heard a clinking sound around the clock. The sound of metal against metal. It had no chance of destroying the clock itself.

But then the police came in and formed a line around the clock. To the demonstrators delight, these were chased off, but came back stronger. Sticks started to be thrown (pulled from the bonfires, frighteningly), and I heard breaking glass. Not long after we saw a man stumbling around covering his bleeding head. Riot police then reinforced the officers around the Olympic Clock. This battle lasted for quite a while, and we watched with bemusement and not a little fear, as broken bottles landed beside us.

Just before 10pm (I think), hundreds started running off the square. We lost the person we had met that night and didn’t realise a kettle was being formed. It was too late at this point. Police had blocked all the exit point, and they started coming towards the main column. Before long they had surrounded the metal ‘fence’ around the monument and forced us inside. I saw people lash out in frustration and in return being rammed in with shields. One women repeatedly ran into the police to be knocked over again. Another man was shouting at them. All understandable. There were over a hundred on the actual column, chanting and occasionally throwing something. Unfortunately, because we were kettled, these objects far too often nearly hit the peaceful demonstrators not up there.

I asked an officer where the necessary toilets were in the kettle – they had to provide water, toilets and medical help. None of these things were provided. We were freezing cold, needed sleep and had been standing all day. I was told as the kettle formed that it was only ‘temporary’ and we would be allowed out shortly. This was not the case. Instead the sent in reinforcements. It was intimidating. And most in there were obviously innocent. So it was fundamentally frustrating. No legal support. And we were of course demonised in the press. Meanwhile the rabble on the monument continued chanting, shouting and doing what they could to annoy the police.

This continued for over 2 hours. Just before 12 a sympathetic officer told us to go to the right where people would be let out, until at 12:05 we were released. Around a hundred police surrounded the kettle, forming a rectangular border on the exit. We were released 3 at a time, our photos were all taken and we exited dazed, knackered, irritated and angry with both sides, unlike at the December 9th demonstration where the police were in fact largely to blame. Kettling is disgusting. But it was not unprovoked.

I later met the young man who had started the attempted demolition of the Olympic Clock, and he said he felt ‘responsible’ for the following chaos. Why he was telling us this I don’t know. But contrary to what some have been saying, I was told by him that he was arrested and then ‘de-arrested’ after the incident, not before. It is important not to romanticise about the night. It was fairly brutal, and there was a lot of justified anger out there. The people I saw who were wearing black with their faces covered however, were largely just there for a riot. The only thing that isn’t being said is that these characters were in a minority in Trafalgar Square, at least at the start when it was merely a large street party.

For socialists, it is the mass movement that is key. And that’s what the 500,000 strong march was all about. Direct action, too, has a role to play, and the peaceful but radical nature of UK Uncut is a vital tool against tax-dodging and the cuts. But there must be balance, and the Trafalgar Square occupation should not have ended how it did. To blame it all on one group would be disingenuous.

Turnout will be much reduced at further demos if people think it is going to end in havoc. Saturday was my second time in London for a demo, and, excuse the pun, travelling 300 miles to be kettled isn’t many people’s cup of tea.

Aaron Porter chased through streets of Manchester

Students responded today to NUS president Aaron Porter’s careerism, u-turning and anemic leadership during the student movement by chasing him through the streets of Manchester today during the TUC/NUS demo against youth unemployment and the rise in fees.

Apparently several hundred protesters from Leeds and other areas broke away from the main demonstration to prevent the widely-deemed traitorous NUS leader from speaking. Porter then took ‘refuge’ in a student union building. His unpopularity is growing at a similar rate to Clegg’s it seems.

The further education NUS executive member who went on to replace his speech was egged off. When the people you are elected to represent despise you, you know your time is up. This year’s NUS conference is going to be very interesting indeed.

The report comes from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which helped organise the demonstration in London today which reportedly saw 10,000 people protest against the attacks on education.

I had to give a rather dramatic reading of a politically themed creative writing piece today so couldn’t make the London demo, but solidarity with all those who turned out. If 10-15 thousand can demonstrate during the exam period then March the 26th is going to be huge.

Hundreds of students chase Aaron Porter through Manchester — National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.