What is it about our political leaders or those paid to speak for them that obliges spouting ideas without bothering to do any basic research?
Today, we are told by the Independent's political editor, Andrew Grice that: Miliband plans to sever 'big money' ties with unions . I remember interviewing former Labour Party finance director David Pitt-Watson while researching for the LabOUR Commission about a considered approach to re-engineering Labour's finances. In the immediate aftermath of that famous 1997 Labour election victory, he had proposed a formula. The intention was to boost income from members in small donations and subscriptions to account for some 40%, while trade union affiliation fees and donations were to account for 30%, high value donors, 20% and commercial activity 10%. It suffered the same fate as all good intentions. But at least it respected the Party's historical origins and federal structure.
By allowing the sort of headline that appeared today in the Independent, together with a pandering editorial MiliE shows he has got no better grip that either of his new Labour predecessors of the state of the part that he now leads.
Most Labour Party candidates for elected office never see a penny from Labour Party HQ - they are seen as the 'losers'. No that's unkind. But that's how it feels. During my two-year period as a member of the National Executive Committee there was never any discussion about the party's finances, how they are structured, the political issues arising from the current ratios between stakeholders or methods of fundraising. Nothing, ziltch, and conspiracy of silence - part fuelled by left-wing insistence that the unions would be always stand by the party, and a right-wing fixation that the Party couldn't afford an ethical donations policy!
As immediate reactions in the twittersphere suggest, I am not alone, in wondering why the issues about the Party's finances are being raised in this particular manner by party spokespersons. I would like to see a debate. But not on the terms apparently ventured by outgoing General Secretary (shortly to be m'lord Collins) to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Anyone who thinks reducing the level of individual donations to £500 a year is the answer to reducing undue influence is living in cloud cuckoo land. As my maternal grandmother used to say: life is not about what you know, but who you know. Influence is multi-faceted and multi-layered.
After all MiliE has only got to ask himself how he got to where he is, or the people now running his office. Meanwhile out here in the real world there are thousands of people wrestling with statutory or non-statutory end year reporting requirements - annual reports and annual accounts. Then there are those with foresight preparing multi-year plans and budgets. Analysts pronounce on future trends and how that will affect business, investment opportunities or charitable donations. All of which assists collective decision making. Which is all a trade union or rich individual is doing when it/she/he decides to grant money to a political party.
What matters is openness and transparency to assist accountability. Trading a donation limit as m'lord Collins is reported to have proposed to the Committee is just form of political horse-trading. MiliE needs to rein him in and put him out to pasture in the Lords sooner rather than later. Then recruit a General Secretary with some experience of the real world. m'Lord Collins handicap is that all he knows is trade union fixing. Nearly three years ago in the wake of the cash for honours scandal, I suggested that the Labour Party needed a financial planner as its next GS. The point remains that there is a widening gulf between the Labour Party national organisation and its constituency/branch structure.
If there is to be a credible UK response to the so-called 'new politics' it will be from a grassroots perspective. It won't be not dreamed up in Victoria Street or the Leader's office in the House of Commons. It will include electoral cycle financial planning as well as campaigning. That's the way to expand the skill base to initiate community/co-operative based solutions to our current state or privately owned enterprise or publuc service infrastucture. The Labour Party itself and its trade union/cooperative movement partners should be at the forefront of that drive. Scrambling to regain the moral high-ground pandering to yesterday's media obsessions is doomed to failure.
How many Labour Party branches will be delivering an Annual Report and Accounts for 2010 to AGMs early in the New Year? How many will be audited? And so on.
Ed get a grip.