Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Lies, Damn Lies and...

Abacusmicus Membership System
...Labour Party funding.

Today was one of my less efficient days at the coalface of my paying job. I suspect in terms of progress made on a few fronts, it could almost count as a day of negative achievement, as all that I actually managed to do was wire up a FreeView receiver to a a spare PC display in the office, thereby ensuring continuous distractions in days to come.

Being the sad anorak I am, though in my defence I would say the alternative early evening fare wasn't much better, I ended up watching poor old Jack Straw take his punishment in the opposition day debate on party funding over on BBC Parliament.

It was a bit of a guilty pleasure to be honest since, as I've posted before, Straw is one of the few front line Labour troops I have any real heartfelt respect for. If there's anyone who was genuinely enraged and appalled by the recent funding scandals I suspect it would be he. Straw manfully took thorough kicking, while at least one of those who should really be on the receiving end of it sat grim faced to one side.

I should say in the interest of impartiality, I'm big enough to admit that the debate that followed on the incompetencies of DEFRA, was a poor effort by Team Cameron. To get bested by 'Rabbit in the Headlights' Benn on such a week suit for the government was a bit unforgivable. Perhaps though the Conservative front bench team may have been reported for cruelty had they followed up the frontal charge on party funding with further such brutality.

The highlight was the effective demolition of the arguments in favour of preferential treatment for Union donations alone. One passage from Francis Maude alone should have been enough to convince at least the likes of the Lib Dems who for some bizarre reason still seem to back the government line on this issue, but sadly it did not seem to.

Discussing the ludicrous concept that these donations are just the aggregate of thousands of willing members' small donations, Maude had this to say:
After all, it is the trade union leaders who decide how many affiliated members they are going to declare. Let us look at the numbers. Unison is one of the unions that does put the right to opt out up front on the application form. More than half its members have exercised that right and decided to opt out. Other unions, such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, declare that 100 per cent. of their members pay the levy, with no opt-outs whatever.

Even that is not enough for two of the biggest beasts among Labour’s paymasters. Amicus and the Communication Workers Union both calmly state that more than 100 per cent. of their members pay the political levy. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) for his research on the subject. Amicus shows that 109.4 per cent. of its members pay the political levy, and the CWU declares that 104.1 per cent. of its members do; I am sure that that would not have happened in the Health Secretary’s time at that union. That shows what a sham the situation is. We are expected to allow what are plainly block donations by the trade unions to be treated as individual voluntary donations. It is laughable."

Source: Hansard, 4th December 2007: Column 705-706

There could be no clearer indication of the deceit that underlies the nature of the unions' block donations to Labour.

I could personally stomach some form of mechanism where a member of a union actively opted in, at their own additional expense, to paying a defined some of money to the Labour party as part of the process of joining a union, but this, of course, is not the type of voluntary donation that Brown is desperate to keep his sweaty mitts on.

The other great sight was seeing another wound inflicted by Straw's own backbenchers. Having little better as a line of defence for their rotten party, the only pinprick of damage they inflicted on the opposition was based largely on attacks on Lord Ashcroft, even if it did mean skirting around the distinction between legal and illegal donations, and only being able to attack his tax status. Unfortunately, the pin with which they inflicted the minuscule wound, turned out to be from a grenade left in Mr Straw's lap:

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): To help the House in relation to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, could he confirm the tax status of Lord Mittal and of Sir Ronald Cohen?

Mr. Straw: An individual’s tax status is a matter for them and for the Inland Revenue and the Electoral Commission.

Source: Hansard, 4th December 2007: Column 711

Thereby quoting Tory chapter and verse on such matters.

What a hopeless rabble. It's all too clear why Brown has had to look beyond the confines of his own party to fill ministerial posts. Like a badly drilled school trip to the theatre to see Shakespeare they laughed on the wrong cues and bayed out of time with the dialogue, even protesting against allegations made by Maude that their own leader has admitted were true.

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