Andrew Grice: After the 'rich man's Budget', this scandal will hurt Tories

Nick Clegg is well placed to act as an honest broker and to bang heads together

The timing of yesterday's revelations that the Conservatives' co-treasurer offered potential party donors access to David Cameron could hardly have been worse for the Prime Minister. A Budget which cut the 50p top tax rate and froze the tax allowances for pensioners was already being mocked as a Downton Abbey package. Mr Cameron and George Osborne have always been nervous about projecting an image of a party led by "two posh boys". Now the cash-for-access allegations may reinforce it. Fittingly, one of the venues suggested for a donors' party was Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey. With Labour attacking the Tories as the "party of the rich", the danger is that the public see Mr Cameron as heading a Downton Abbey Government.

The PM could prevent this by extending his Tory modernisation project to the two areas exposed yesterday as in urgent need of reform – the lobbying industry and the way political parties are funded. After months of deliberations over lobbyists, the Government gave birth to a mouse in January, ignoring the scale of a problem exposed by The Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which secretly recorded conversations with senior executives at Bell Pottinger boasting about their access to Government.

Similar claims emerged yesterday. Cabinet Office proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists look even weaker now and need to be beefed up, not least to prevent lobbying firms playing any role in raising party funds. Political funding is a difficult issue that all parties hope will go away. A sensible blueprint was published last November by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life: a £10,000 cap on individual donations with parties sharing £23m a year of state funding to make up for the lost income. Predictably, the report has been gathering dust. The Tories want a £50,000 limit because they have more big donors and would lose three-quarters of their income from donations if the ceiling were £10,000. Politically, it suits them to leave Labour dependent on its drip-feed from the unions, which provide about half its income and 80 per cent of its donations.

Nick Clegg will soon chair cross-party talks on the committee's report. With both the Tories and Labour apparently motivated by self-interest, the Deputy Prime Minister is well placed to act as an honest broker and to bang heads together. He is reluctant to propose more taxpayers' funding in an age of austerity. But it could be based on matching pound-for-pound public funding for small donations to give parties an incentive to attract new members and supporters. More state funding is the only way to sweep the stables clean; it is time to bite the bullet.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: Leveraged Finance - Senior Associate - International Bank - Frankfurt

Competitive + bonus: Selby Jennings: My client, a growing European CIB are loo...

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible