Why have Labour Party's fixers delayed revealing their latest thinking on Refounding Labour until the eve of Annual Conference 2011? Why did stories appear at the beginning of the August silly season about Ed Miliband taking on the trade unions' hold over Labour? Could this conceiveable have anything to do with the funding of political parties?
My curiosity has been aroused by revelations about a plan to change the formulae for handing Labour Party membership subscriptions. Details were first revealed by Ann Black, doyen of constituency representatives on the party's National Executive Committee, in an eMail to her contacts, subsequently published on Labour List and the newly formed Labour Democratic Network websites.
It is proposed that first, all national [sic] debts incurred up to 2010 would be written off, so that every CLP would start with a clean slate. Second, a higher proportion of membership income would be retained centrally.
As set out these financial proposals risk provoking a knee-jerk reaction. Any proposals allowing Head Office more control are like the proverbial red rag to a bull. I'll confess that was my first reaction. But researching my piece for the latest edition of Chartist (due out next weekend) I entered a Google search with the words: 'Chartist Hayden Phillips'. I have tried to keep my finger on the issue of political party funding since 2003. There is a partial chronicle on this blog here.
Of particular relevance today is the expected publication of the latest official inquiry immediately after this year's political party Conference season in October. I'm not sure that is well founded as authors of official inquiries prefer to appeal to a political consensus. This one has been conducted by Sir Christopher Kelly and his Committee on Standards in Public Life. We know the LibDems want to raid the public purse. We know the Tories want to wreck the affililated TU link with the Labour Party. We know the Blairites went to astonishing lengths to follow the Tory-agenda. Judging by the silly season headlines, they are still at what they do best: being Tories.
So what should the position of rank-and-file Labour Party members be? Can we afford a principled position about our Party and its finances? Can we help our leader find a considered position? More importantly, can that be achieved in time for a crucial pre-Conference NEC on 20 September?
Ann Black and Ellie Reeves, another CLP representative on the NEC are right to flag up the Head Office financial proposals. Our job is to advance the case for a comprehensive rebuilding strategy to emerge from the Refounding Labour consultation, of which reforming the way in which membership subscriptions are distributed should form part.
We need our Leader to use the opportunity of Conference to remind everyone that he believes in a mass-membership Labour Party. To change the public perception of political party, membership has to be starting point. Poignantly, this weekend's media has been strewn with revelations of a new Labour strategy for challenging the Tories starts with casting their leader, David Cameron, as an old Tory. Ed Miliband should beware of being cast as another old 'top-down' Labour leader battling it out with the Trades Unions.
Labour should set itself a goal of financial independence from the state if it is win back people's trust as a party of government. That really would give Refounding Labour meaning.