Labour has received almost £1m from the taxpayer to help draw up policies for the next general election – with very limited results so far.
The money has been paid by the Electoral Commission from a fund designed to help parties draft manifestos and explore policy ideas. The scale of the payments emerged as Ed Miliband faces criticism from the Tories and Liberal Democrats for failing to spell out in greater detail the alternative vision his party plans to present to the country.
Soon after he became Labour leader, he said he was presenting the party with a "blank sheet" of paper on policy and was setting up 19 review groups to start filling it in. Since then, that process has been abandoned and only a handful of policy proposals have emerged.
However, i can disclose that since the last election Labour has received two payments of £342,459 each and others of £155,773 and £114,000 – a total of £954,691 – as "policy development grants". The party is also due to collect a further £100,000-plus before the end of the year, taking the total to more than £1m.
Last night John Glen, the Tory MP for Salisbury, claimed that Labour's policy review had become a "running joke in Westminster". In a letter to Mr Miliband, he challenged the Labour leader to explain where the money had gone.
He wrote: "The public will be shocked to hear you have taken over £1m in public money over the past two years in the name of this blank page. It is turning out to be the most expensive blank sheet of paper in history." A Labour spokesman responded to Mr Glen's letter: "Even from the Tories this is desperate and risible stuff."
Mr Miliband announced a separate policy drive shortly after becoming leader, setting up a series of working parties to come up with voter-friendly ideas. The policy review was initially overseen by Liam Byrne, but he lost responsibility for the work at the last shadow Cabinet reshuffle and was replaced by Jon Cruddas.
The result has been to leave the policy-making process in limbo.
Under the policy grant development system, £2m a year is available to political parties with two or more MPs, to develop ideas. Three-quarters of the cash is shared by Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.