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14 January 2016

John Mann calls for £1,000 party membership fee for people with property worth £1m

The Labour MP for Bassetlaw says it is overwhelmingly the middle classes who are joining the party.

By john Mann

A wealth tax is needed to save the Labour Party.

There appears to be a lot of support across the Labour Party for the broad concept of a wealth tax. We now have the need and opportunity to introduce one this year.

Of course we are not in power, but even the most optimistic of people anticipate that the Party’s income will be immediately decimated by the Tory Trade Union Bill.

What will happen, when this Bill receives Royal Assent, is that the unions will be forced to shift all their resources into re-recruiting their members, individual by individual and direct debit by direct debit. It will be a huge and absurd task that will be all-encompassing on union time and efforts this year.

Meanwhile the political funds will also require individual agreement with each person being required to sign up.

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Considering how few trade unionists registered, for free, to participate in the Labour leadership ballot over the summer – the figure is less than 10% – it is hard to construe why many more than those people will choose to both pay a political levy and agree for that levy to go to the Labour Party.

This may change over the next few years, but the unions are going to be distracted in reversing this trend in the foreseeable future.

Hidden from the discussion of Labour’s big increase in membership is any analysis of who has joined as fee paying individual members, but a deeper examination will show that it is overwhelmingly the middle classes who are joining. One street in Islington North, with owner-occupiers living in multi-million pound properties, had 40 people over a 12 week period join the Party. Membership is now higher in the average Tory heartland seat than in the average Labour heartland seat. Within heartland areas it is again overwhelmingly the middle classes who have joined.

When Labour’s membership was last this high in 1997, there was a very different picture with a good mix of members coming from all backgrounds and classes. Of those who left the party over the years, it is mainly the middle class members who have recently re-joined. This is a big political problem: whilst the Labour Party has rapidly grown it is now conversely more distant from its traditional base – including in places like Islington.

But it also highlights how the current short–term crisis can be averted – that of bankruptcy. The Party has lost most of its bigger private donors and depleted trade union political funds will not be capable of again bridging this gap. This is why it is time for a Labour wealth tax. Those members with properties valued at over a million pounds should be expected to pay a Labour wealth tax of £1,000 a year to be a Labour Party member. It will raise significant money and it is entirely Socialist in its approach.

To consolidate these Socialist principles, the Labour wealth tax should be based on the total number of properties owned, so that those with second homes and property empires have the opportunity to make a more egalitarian contribution.

Some might want to label this as the Labour mansion tax, which in reality it is, but it is enabling the Socialist principle of redistribution of wealth which for many goes to the very core of the Labour Party’s values and priorities.

Those who happen to have seen their property dramatically escalate in value face the prospect of huge future benefits from this. Those who live in less prosperous areas do not have that luxury.

At a stroke, Labour can redress its financial crisis and push its values up to the fore. I am proposing that this change takes place with a rule change at the Labour Party conference this year.

This article was originally published on John Mann’s blog. It has been republished here with the permission of his office.