Big money is poisoning British democracy, warns anti-sleaze watchdog

Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life says public faith is collapsing

British politics will remain tainted by corruption because the three main parties are refusing to reform the way they are funded, the head of Westminster's anti-sleaze watchdog has warned.

"The system virtually requires [party officials] responsible for funding to offer access to all kinds of things which, even if not corrupt in practice, have the appearance of corruption," Sir Christopher Kelly told The Independent. "It adds to the tarnished nature of the political brand."

He issued a final appeal to David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to agree a £10,000 cap on individual donations to their parties to ensure donors cannot buy access to or influence politicians. He warned that another funding scandal is inevitable if no ceiling is imposed. He also called for an inquiry by his watchdog into the work of lobbying companies and into the private firms that run public services.

The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life criticised the three main parties for not acting on its recommendations to clean up party funding. It proposed they be recompensed for a donations cap with £23m a year of taxpayers' money.

Cross-party talks on the report are deadlocked. Although Mr Clegg tried to broker a deal, the Conservatives want a £50,000 cap and Labour opposes the committee's call for trade union members to opt in to paying the political levy to Labour, rather than opting out as at present.

Sir Christopher predicted a repeat of the "cash for access" affair which forced the resignation of Peter Cruddas, the Conservative Party co-treasurer, after he was filmed offering meetings with David Cameron in return for donations of up to £250,000.

"Every time there is a story about confidence and trust, the reputation of political parties goes down another notch," he said. "It affects everyone. It damages the brand of all of them."

Sir Christopher warned: "The three main political parties committed themselves to doing something about it in their manifestos, and the Coalition Agreement did too. And yet nothing is happening. But if they are going to reclaim any public trust, then surely they have got to be proactive in dealing with difficult issues like this."

With the parties already looking towards the 2015 general election, he said: "We are running out of time. This will require legislation. If they really want to do it, they could still do it. If it were delayed a few years, it would be a shame, but still a prize to get a sensible, sustainable system."

Sir Christopher feared that, amid the next scandal, a "half-cocked" reform would be rushed in, possibly the £50,000 cap favoured by the Tories, which might then be overturned by a future Labour-led government. He warned that such "tit-for-tat" politics would bring the parties into further disrepute. Disillusionment with the mainstream parties was illustrated in last Thursday's elections for Police and Crime Commissioners, which saw 12 independents elected in 41 areas on a turnout of less than 15 per cent.

Calling on the three parties to put the national interest before their narrow self-interest, Sir Christopher said: "For the Labour Party, it involves addressing very difficult issues about its historical dependence on the trade unions. For the Conservative Party, it requires giving up the advantage it possesses because it has a greater number of wealthier donors."

Labour fears that there could be a secret deal in which the Tories support state funding for parties and the Liberal Democrats approve parliamentary boundaries which could hand the Tories an extra 20 seats at the next election. But Liberal Democrat sources dismissed such speculation, saying Mr Clegg would not change his decision to veto the new boundaries.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?