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Warning against restricting trade union funding of political parties

Justin Fisher

Pushing through controversial new laws to restrict trade union funding of political parties may lead to ‘revenge’ legislation in the future, Professor Justin Fisher has warned a select committee set up to consider the move.

The Trade Union Political Funds and Political Party Funding Committee met on 4 February to look into the issue, which it’s believed could cost the Labour party up to £8million because it would require Labour-affiliated union members to ‘opt in’ to paying the political levy instead of ’opting out’.

Giving evidence before the select committee, Professor Fisher said that the potential restriction, focusing on clauses 10 and 11 in the Trade Union Bill, would seem unnecessary because the current system of ‘opting out’ worked well, highlighting that significant numbers of trade union members exercised that right.

He added that, should Labour get back into power, it would not be unusual for them to take revenge against a law that seemed to target only one party.

He said that he was, however, not necessarily opposed to the concept if it formed part of a much wider reform of party funding.

Professor Fisher, who acted as advisor to the Committee on Standards in Public Life report in on party political funding in 2011, continued: “In many ways, these clauses seen in isolation and without any other party funding reforms, may represent a solution to a problem that does not really exist.

"Beyond the immediate financial risk to one political party, they also risk jeopardising a future cross –party consensus on party funding reform, which has been so crucial to the success of previous changes.”

Listen to Professor Fisher’s evidence at 11.32 here: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/6b29fbe3-1e45-4ea6-bf76-d18bc97288a6. The committee has a reporting deadline of 29 February.