Sunday, March 19, 2006
Party Funding Reform Is Now a Certainty
So what are we to make of the latest revelations in the Loans for Peerage affair. I must admit to being a tad disappointed that the combined talents of Her Majesty's Press have failed to identify the other people who make up the £14 million donated to the Labour Party. Perhaps they are relying on Mr Harriet Harman to their dirty work for them on Tuesday. Now, you ask, why should the Labour Party make their names public? There's no law requiring them to do so, and neither the Conservatives nor the LibDems have offered to do so. Correct. But neither of those Parties stand accused of hiding the existence of the loans from senior party officials, and neither stand accused of taking loans for honours. I don't think this issue will go away until we know who the other loanees are. The Independent reports today that Sir Gunaan Noon is another one, and his name has also been removed from the Honours List. The tragedy now is that any political donation of a loan of a substantial amount will be seen as tainted. There's absolutely nothing wrong with either donating or loaning money to a political party, but if you had the money to do it now I suspect you would run a mile. And that's why the bandwagon for state funding continues to roll. Ken Clarke and Digby Jones on Sky this morning both advocated it. In Ken Clarke's case this is particularly noteworthy as he is heading up David Cameron's Democracy Commission. Tomorrow the Conservatives will outline plans to 'clean up' the system. One proposal will be to limit donations to a figure probably under £100,000. I look forward to hearing where they think they money will come from to make up the shortfall. I certainly wouldn't want to be in Jonathan Marland's position - he's the Conservative Party treasurer. I suppose symbolically it would be quite appealing for David Cameron to stand up and say "I am announcing today that the Conservative Party will no longer accept any donation of more than £100,000." He would be cheered by the electorate and it would reinforce his 'change' agenda. The challenge would then be to Labour to do the same. They can't, of course, because of the dominance of the trade unions in their funding. But on the other hand, think of the message this sends to those donors who have kept the Party afloat in the past through their generosity. If Michael Ashcroft had not been around during the Hague years the Party would have gone under. It's as simple as that. But whatever is announced by David Cameron tomorrow, one thing is clear. Funding reform is coming and we'd all better get used to it.