The announcement by Ed Miliband that a cap of £5,000 should be imposed on political donations and that it should apply to the trade unions [who are responsible for around 80 per cent of all large donations to Labour] is a genuinely radical move. Since the Labour leader has ruled out further state funding, describing it as unrealistic “in the current economic circumstances”, his proposals would dramatically reduce the amount that all three of the main parties receive. The Conservatives are currently proposing a cap of £50,000, ten times higher than the Miliband’s preferred limit
But the Tories will be quick to note that he isn’t proposing to change the system whereby members of unions affiliated to Labour are asked whether they would like to “opt out” of giving a levy of £3 a year, rather than “opt in”. The answer – that it would significantly reduce the amount the party receives – is one Miliband will struggle to avoid conceding.
Yet while there are limits to his radicalism, the momentum is now with the Labour leader. His call for “more comprehensive” and “lower” limits on party funding is another smart move. Parties need to spend less time producing expensive posters of questionable value [witness the last Tory election campaign] and more time seeking to engage voters. Miliband’s proposals offer one way to begin to do so.