Defending Lib Dem councillors to the hilt and following their example

Last week, I was called by a journalist who was looking to write a piece attacking local Liberal Democrat councillors in part of my region. He wanted to have a go at them for pledging to donate 10% of their pay to their local party to support campaigning on important local issues.  In some areas this practise is called “tithing”.

Part of the call went something like this:

“I understand you are a member of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Executive and you were the candidate to take over from Sharon Bowles as MEP?”

“Yes that’s right.  Sharon was an excellent MEP and I am sorry the election result I was not carry on her work in the Parliament”.

“And I understand as a lawyer you have prosecuted bribery in the NHS.”

“No, it was a government department.”

“Ah right.  But you have called for the Lib Dems to take ethics more seriously.  I have an article here where you talk about something called the Nolan Principles.”

“Yes, they are very important rules for upholding standards. They need to be taken seriously.”

“You must think it is extraordinary that [names of Lib Dem councillors] have to pay 10% of their pay to the party coffers?”

My answer was “no I don’t think it is extraordinary” and I went on to explain why it is a good thing.

The Liberal Democrats are a grassroots movement built on small donations from our members.  When I stood for the European Parliament we raised £240,000 in my region. We wouldn’t have held the one seat we did (by 10,000 votes) without it.  The most common donation amount was just £25.  Other parties are funded by multi-millionaires and trade union bosses who exert undue influence.

As far as I know, no Liberal Democrat donor has ever extracted a policy change from the party on the basis of their supply of money and I believe they never will.  That is not true of other parties.

Liberal Democrat councillors are elected because of their hard work and the support of their local parties.  It is entirely right that local groups have voluntary understandings between themselves that councillors donate a share of their pay to the local party, to be used for campaigns on local issues and to re-elect them, elect their colleagues.  The amount donated varies between areas and there are exemptions for hardship.

This is not a fee for being a councillor.  It is a contribution for being a Liberal Democrat councillor and receiving the support that goes with that.

I do the same thing in my work. As a self-employed barrister I pay a per centage of my professional fees to my chambers, which funds certain resources and support I share with other members of my chambers. Many self-employed professionals work this way.

In the 2014 European Elections I put my money where my mouth was.  All leading Euro candidates including sitting MEPs signed Candidates’ Compacts pledging to make a contribution.  Exact terms varied between regions but in South East England myself and Catherine Bearder pledged to give 10% of our salaries, if we were elected, to our regional parties (South East and South Central). It would be used support local campaigning on issues that really matter to people.

I am proud to have made this commitment, following the leadership shown by our Councillors, and I am only sorry that the electorate  in 2014 did not give me the chance to make good on this pledge.

I salute councillors who do the same.

I don’t think my defence of tithing was quite the response that the journalist hoped for.  He chose not to run a story.

* Antony Hook was #2 on the South East European list in 2014, is the English Party's representative on the Federal Executive and produces this sites EU Referendum Roundup.

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  • James Smith 13th May '16 - 9:52am

    This is very important.

    I was impressed that Antony and Catherine pledged to give 10% of their salaries if they were elected.

    I made a donation to their campaign partly because of it!

    I was glad it helped get Catherine re-elected and was very disappointed we did not get Antony as MEP as well. I hope we will in future!

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 13th May '16 - 9:56am

    Thank you very much.

  • Richard Underhill 13th May '16 - 10:23am

    The European Youth Orchestra will be closed unless funding can be achieved. The Lord Privy Seal in Harold MacMillan’s government had been an organ scholar and founded the orchestra as a cultural step bringing together youth and Europe. Although disliked by Tory euro-sceptics and satirised by Private Eye for his command of detail he is part of the history of the EU.

  • Trade unions are democratically controlled by their members. If the members of a union vote to donate money to a political party then the union can donate money. If the members of a union vote not to donate money then the union does not donate money. Trade union members in my experience have their own opinions on issues and are not fools who will just go along with the wishes of “trade union bosses” (or elected office-holders). After all, the Bar Council is in effect trade union although it’s members like to think it is not.

  • Couple of points – although I welcome the defence of the practice, firstly, lets not fall into the journalistic trap of calling the money “pay” they are allowances.

    Secondly, it is not so much about recieving support, it is about serving the community with most of the moeny going on all year round FOCUS leaflets that allow two-way communictaion with local people. Yes, all Lib Dem councillors should recognise they have benefited from the support, help and previous efforts of others.

  • Just a minute….

    MEP basic salary is about £76,200 per year (before you include expenses, allowances, etc).

    10% of that is £7,620. That would definitely be a declarable donation under the law (PPERA).

    You can do an online search of donations on the Electoral Commission website.

    A search of that database shows no donations from Catherine Bearder since 2001.

    So if she did make to promise to match councillors’ contributions then it appears to be a promise she is breaking??

  • Geoffrey Payne 13th May '16 - 12:32pm

    I agree with this. As a Lib Dem candidate you get a team of people to help get you elected and you should pay something back to the party in return. If you want to get elected as an independent candidate you would have to invest your own money in getting yourself elected, so what is the difference? The only exceptions I would make is if that person is on a low income or in financial difficulties.

  • Neil Sandison 13th May '16 - 12:48pm

    Perhaps this alleged journalist who seems to be very wet behind the ears should be pointed in the direction of UKIP and how much they spent from their allowances as MEPs on campaigning to undermine the organisation their electorate had sent them to represent their interests and not fill their parties coffers.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 13th May '16 - 4:39pm

    It’s far from new. Michael Crick, Newsnight and others ran stories on it when Simon Hughes was party president.

    We were riding high, fairly sleaze free compared to the others and they were looking for anything to try to show we were “as bad as the others”.

  • This was a recommendation of the long-forgotten Bones report – namely that all elected reps “tithe” to the party from their allowances. It was made a requirement on councillors by the English party.

    One group of elected people ignored that however – the MPs. Even thought the then Chief Whip Paul Burstow co-wrote the report. When the issue was raised the replacement Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael showed his fine arrogant qualities by firstly ignoring questions and then dismissing them.

  • David Evershed 14th May '16 - 3:43pm

    Eurocrat deserves an answer as to why Catherine Bearder appears not to have met the pledge to donate 10% of her MEP allowance to the party.

    Have the donations been made to several region parties and not been picked up by Eurocrat in the PPERA figures?

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