The cheek of Michael Gove - it's the Tory party that needs to clean up its finances

If the Education Secretary is as concerned as he claims about party funding, why doesn't he support Labour's proposed £5,000 donation cap?

Michael Gove has some cheek. Yesterday he threw around cheap smears about the Labour Party when in fact it’s the Tories that need to get their house in order.

The financing of political parties is crying out for serious reform. That’s why Ed Miliband has already challenged David Cameron to bring in a statutory limit of £5,000 on all donations. Anyone would have thought Mr Gove would have welcomed such an opportunity to clean up Tory party finances.

Instead he accused Labour of wanting to introduce the "compulsory confiscation of taxpayers’ money to pay for politicians." But he conveniently forgot to tell us that David Cameron’s Tory party pocketed around £4m of taxpayers' cash a year between 2005 and 2010. Maybe Mr Gove might let us know how much of taxpayers’ money went to fund his own shadow office in opposition?

In government, the Tory party no longer accesses this 'short' money. So instead we’ve seen the number of Tory spin doctors and Tory hacks appointed to the taxpapyer-funded government payroll balloon. And this from a government that promised a "limit in the number of Special Advisers".

We’ve also seen wealthy backers continue to fund David Cameron’s Tory party. Naturally, Michael Gove defends those who donate to political parties as indeed would I. But isn’t it a funny coincidence that Mr Adrian Beecroft donated £700,000 to the Conservative Party and was commissioned to write a government report on employment law, which included a recommendation to make it easier to sack people? What a remarkable coincidence that 50 per cent of Tory funding comes from the City, the same people this government has rewarded with mega tax cuts while ordinary hardworking families continue to see their standard of living squeezed.

Funny old world, eh?

So for the avoidance of suspicion, I hope Michael Gove agrees we should have absolute transparency in the financing of political parties. With that in mind, perhaps he can tell us whether he has attended any of the private Tory dinners for donors that brought in a whopping £1,042,970.93 in the last quarter alone?

Indeed, in recent weeks we have all enjoyed reading about Mr Gove’s dinners out on the town, so I’ve no doubt we would all look forward to learning more about who the Education Secretary wines and dines with when fundraising for Conservative head office.

Of course one reason the Tory Party increasingly turns to ‘big money’ and won’t introduce a £5,000 donation cap is pure self interest – there simply aren’t enough grassroots members left to sustain them. Under David Cameron, Tory membership has dropped like a stone. In some key marginal seats, like Sherwood, they have just 30 members.

While Tory membership is withering away, Labour’s active membership is on the increase. And whereas the Tory party has been forced to rely on big wealthy donors, the biggest chunk of our income is from our ordinary members.

Since we as a party are more rooted in our communities, we’re selecting more Labour candidates from all walks of life such as former soldier Jon Wheale in Burton, teacher Mari Williams in Cardiff North, businessman James Frith in Bury North and stay-at-home mum Lisa Forbes in Peterborough, to name just a few.

Of course our candidates have links with ordinary men and women in the workplace who are members of a trade union. Labour MPs and candidates from all backgrounds and outlooks have such links because we share the same commitment to the values of equality and social justice. That doesn’t mean we all sign up to every union policy, but nor should it come as a surprise when we campaign alongside trade unionists on issues such as employment rights. Despite Mr Gove suggesting otherwise, I rather suspect he actually knows that.

Meanwhile, David Cameron’s attempts at modernisation of the Conservative Party hit the buffers a long time ago. Just this summer we’ve learnt of the existence of a nasty outfit called Traditional Britain that campaigns for "traditional values in the Tory Party". Many of us are somewhat surprised David Cameron hasn’t shown any leadership and insisted membership of Traditional Britain become incompatible with Tory membership.

Given concerns about this fringe group, I wonder if Mr Gove is able to reassure us that no Traditional Britain members have been selected as candidates or taken part in the selections that have so far taken place in the 40 Conservative target constituencies?

But if the Tory Party wants a serious discussion about party funding, I’m sure Labour campaigners would welcome them to the table. So come on Michael, if you are as concerned as you claim about party funding, why not support a £5,000 donation cap – what exactly are you scared of?

Education Secretary Michael Gove leaves 10 Downing Street on 19 December 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South. 

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The age of China's female self-made billionaires – and why it could soon be over

Rags to riches stories like Zhou Qunfei's are becoming less common.

Elizabeth Holmes, 33, was the darling of Silicon Valley, and the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Then, after a series of lawsuits, the value of her healthcare firm plummeted.

Holmes might have abdicated the billionaire crown, but another tech queen was ready to take it. Only this time, the self-made female billionaire was not a blonde American, but Zhou Qunfei, a 47-year-old from China. She dropped out of high school and began working at a watch lens factory as a teenager. In 1993, when she was in her early twenties, she founded her own company. Her big break came ten years later, when Motorola asked her to develop a glass screen for smartphones. She said yes.

Zhou is in fact more typical of the SMFB set than Holmes. Of those listed by Forbes, 37.5 per cent come from China, compared to 30 per cent from the United States. Add in the five SMFB from Hong Kong, and the Middle Kingdom dominates the list. Nipping at Zhou’s heels for top spot are Chan Laiwa, a property developer who also curates a museum, and Wa Yajun, also a property developer. Alibaba founder Jack Ma declared his “secret sauce” was hiring as many women as possible.

So should the advice to young feminists be “Go East, young woman”? Not quite, according to the academic Séagh Kehoe, who runs the Twitter account Women in China and whose research areas include gender and identity in the country.

“I haven’t seen any of these self-made female billionaires talking about feminism,” says Kehoe. Instead, a popular narrative in China is “the idea of pulling yourself up by your boot straps”. So far as female entrepreneurs embrace feminism, it’s of the corporate variety – Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has been translated into Mandarin.

In fact, Kehoe believes the rise of the self-made woman is down to three historic factors – the legacy of Maoist equality, and both the disruption and the opportunity associated with the post-Mao economic reforms.

Mao brought in the 1950 Marriage Law, a radical break with China’s patriarchal traditions, which banned marriage without a woman’s consent, and gave women the right to divorce for the first time.

In Communist China, women were also encouraged to work. “That is something that was actively promoted - that women should be an important part of the labour force,” says Kehoe. “At the same time, they also had the burden of cooking and cleaning. They had to shoulder this double burden.”

After Mao’s death, his successor Deng Xiaoping began dismantling the communist economy in favour of a more market-based system. This included reducing the number of workers at state-owned enterprises. “A lot of women lost their jobs,” says Kehoe. “They were often the first to be laid off.”

For some women – such as the SMFBs – this was counterbalanced by the huge opportunities the new, liberal economy presented. “All this came together to be a driving force for women to be independent,” Kehoe says.

The one child policy, although deeply troubling to feminists in terms of the power it dictates over women’s bodies, not to mention the tendency for mothers to abort female foetuses, may have also played a role. “There is an argument out there that, for all of the harm the one child policy has done, for daughters who were the only child in the family, resources were pushed towards that child,” says Kehoe. “That could be why female entrepreneurs in China have been successful.”

Indeed, for all the dominance of the Chinese SMFBs, it could be short-lived. Mao-era equality is already under threat. Women’s political participation peaked in the 1970s, and today’s leaders are preoccupied with the looming fact of an aging population.

“There has been quite a lot of pushback towards women returning to the home,” says Kehoe. Chinese state media increasingly stresses the role of “good mothers” and social stability. The one child policy has been replaced by a two child policy, but without a comparable strengthening of maternity workplace rights.

Meanwhile, as inequality widens, and a new set of economic elites entrench their positions, rags to riches stories like Zhou Qunfei's are becoming less common. So could the Chinese SMFBs be a unique phenomenon, a generation that rode the crest of a single wave?

“Maybe,” says Kehoe. “The 1980s was the time for self-made billionaires. The odds aren’t so good now.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.