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Thomas Quinn, "Block Voting in the Labour Party: A Political Exchange Model," Party Politics, 8 (March, 2002), 207-226.

First Paragraph:
One of the most controversial aspects of the organizational link between the Labour Party and the British trade unions has been the 'block vote', an institutional means by which big trade unions have been able to dominate the extraparliamentary decision-making bodies of the party. The block vote's special place in debates about the Labour Party, its seemingly blatant contrariety to democracy, and its gradual dismantling in recent years make it an appropriate object for reappraisal. The block vote is normally viewed in terms of its 'distributional' (power) consequences. This paper examines in greater detail a less considered aspect of the block vote, viz. its efficiency. 'Efficiency' refers to the way in which different actors within a party continue to have incentives to engage in a political relationship with each other. To analyse efficiency, I adopt a rational choice 'exchange' approach to the analysis of political parties. The first section of this paper sketches an exchange model, which conceptualizes parties in terms of the 'political exchange' that occurs between policyseeking activists/interest groups and office-seeking politicians. Party organizations are efficient responses to the problems that plague nonsimultaneous political exchange. This approach is applied to the Labour Party in subsequent sections. Block voting is revealed as an efficient institution that helped secure trade union funding of the Labour Party for a century. Finally, I show that the contradictions inherent in a trade unionfunded vote-seeking party have bedevilled Labour and left it vulnerable to disunity whenever it is in government.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Labour Party membership
Figure 1. Distributional consequences of block voting

Last Paragraph:
The value of the exchange approach to parties becomes apparent here. The present party -union relationship is characterized by unequal exchange, yet Labour remains dependent on union funds, not least because the costs of campaigning have soared. Labour has embraced capital-intensive campaigning, which might reduce its reliance on activist labour, but it requires considerable funds, which only the unions can guarantee. Individual membership drives in the 1980s and 1990s offered initial limited success, but membership quickly fell back. Labour did benefit from increased business donations after Tony Blair became leader, but business donors are rarely loyal: business wants to back winners, as it did with the Conservatives in the 1980s and with Blair in the 1990s, but if Labour looks set for opposition, business donations may dry up. State-funding of parties could rescue Labour, but given the low regard in which politicians are popularly held in Britain, it seems unlikely that any government could secure full statefunding of parties in the short or medium term, though there has been some recent movement. The Neill committee's report on party funding recommended a three-fold increase in existing state subventions ('Short money') to opposition parliamentary parties and new legislation has imposed a cap on campaign spending up to a maximum of £20 million per party, thereby easing parties' demand for cash from sponsors. Nevertheless, campaign and organizational costs will still pose considerable difficulties for Labour if its new-found private and business donors desert it, which leaves only the unions as reliable financial suppliers. The realization of this explains the lack of calls recently from government allies for a party- union split. However, a small number of union voices have begun to broach the subject, notably the leader of the fire brigades' union, Ken Cameron. Rational union leaders want a return on their investments. If internal party institutions are skewed against them and government policies are seen as timid or even regressive, then only different policies or different institutions will prevent increasing demands for a divorce.