A trio of good news on political reform

First, fuelled in part by Labour’s debate about how it should be seen relative to the trade unions, we have the news that Ed Miliband may be about to break the logjam on party funding reform:

Ed Miliband is to distance Labour from its trade union paymasters by diluting the party’s financial dependence on them and reducing their role in electing the party leader.

Labour has proposed introducing a ceiling on donations to any political party which could be as low as £500, The Independent has learnt.

The move could break the long-running deadlock between the parties on agreeing a new system of financing politics.

Previous attempts to halt big donations have failed, partly because Labour was reluctant to give up its multimillion-pound gifts from the unions. But Mr Miliband is ready to gamble on Labour attracting thousands of small donations from individual supporters as part of a drive to take “big money” out of politics. [The Independent]

There is an obvious agreement to be made here, with a cap on large donations from individuals alongside switching the donations from trade unions into being individual donations from trade unionists. That would end the big election time lump sum donations from the unions, matching the financial hit the Conservatives would take from limits on large individual donors, reducing the power of trade union chiefs (something likely to be welcomed by many in Labour, let alone other parties) but making individual trade unionists more important (as it becomes their direct decision on whether or not to donate, how often, how much and when) and encouraging a wider political culture of more, small donations.

Second, there is news on what will replace the mothballed No.10 Downing Street petition website – a worthy innovation in its time but not something that has made much of an impact on the quality of democracy in the UK.

The BBC reports:

A plan to allow popular online petitions to be debated in Parliament within a year has been given the go ahead by the government…

The most popular could eventually become Parliamentary bills.

Under the plans, petitions that receive a certain level of support – probably 100,000 signatures – would be debated…

Petitioners would have to be on the electoral roll, and Parliamentary time might also be refused if a topic had been recently debated.

This could be very good news – making petitioning a much more meaningful process – as long as the possibility of a Bill going through Parliament does not become a variation of the Private Members Bill process, where individual MPs have far too much power to block a Bill single-handedly – and even in effect anonymously. That risks immediately bringing any new system into disrepute the first time it is used for a substantive matter.

Finally, behind The Times’s paywall is news that Nick Clegg and the bishops are in heated debated as the bishops try to keep the places reserved for religious figures in a reformed and mostly elected House of Lords. Aside from the merits of this particular point, the debate shows a welcome willingness to pursue radical details for Lords reform even in the face of many members of the Lords assiduously arguing that democracy is a welcome idea, just as long as it doesn’t apply to them or quite yet.

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