August 26, 2013 10:15 pm

UK political parties trade barbs on funding

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Ed Miliband is a “weak leader buffeted by union pressure”, Michael Gove will say on Tuesday as the Tories ramp up their attempts to depict the Labour leader as a pawn of union bosses.

The education secretary will make a speech where he contrasts Mr Miliband with Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader known for standing up to the Militant wing of his party in the 1980s.

But Labour will seek to turn the spotlight back to the rich individuals who provide most of the financing for the Conservative party.

“What a remarkable coincidence that 50 per cent of Tory funding comes from the City, the same people this government has rewarded with mega tax cuts while ordinary hardworking families continue to see their standard of living squeezed,” said Jon Ashworth, a Labour MP.

Party financing is set to become a familiar topic in Westminster ahead of the 2015 general election.

This summer David Cameron attacked Mr Miliband repeatedly during a session of prime minister’s questions over his supposed dependence on Len McCluskey, head of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union.

The Labour leader retaliated by asking about Tory donations from hedge funds and about Lynton Crosby, the party strategist who also works for the tobacco and alcohol industries.

Mr Gove will say in his speech that Tony Blair once argued that Labour should not be the political arm of the trade union movement, adding: “But sadly Labour are now sinking back into their pre-Blair position of living in the unions’ shadow.”

Mr Miliband won the Labour leadership election in 2010 against his elder brother David, with the crucial backing of the biggest unions who now provide the majority of the party’s outside funding.

Mr Miliband was rocked earlier this year by vote-rigging allegations surrounding the selection of a candidate for the Falkirk constituency in Scotland. He responded by announcing that he would review the automatic payment by union members of “affiliation fees” to Labour, although critics say this will give unions even more power over the party.

Mr Ashworth retaliated in a column for the New Statesman, accusing Mr Gove of “cheap smears” and calling on the Tories to get their own “house in order”.

Labour has called for a statutory limit of £5,000 on all donations, a policy that would be to its advantage because it has millions of, albeit indirect, trade union members who contribute smaller sums.

Mr Gove has said the idea, which would require more state funding for political parties, is the “compulsory confiscation of taxpayers’ money to pay for politicians”.

The Tory party has been criticised in recent days for refusing to confirm a rumour that its membership has dropped to a historic low.

Mr Ashworth said: “One reason the Tory party increasingly turns to ‘big money’ and won’t introduce a £5,000 donation cap is pure self-interest: there simply aren’t enough grassroots members left to sustain them.”

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