Big money is poisoning British democracy, warns anti-sleaze watchdog
Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life says public faith is collapsing
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 19 November 2012
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.
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Wellcome Image Awards: The most striking images from the world of science, including breast cancer cells under chemical attack and a photographer’s own kidney stone
Space debris orbiting Earth to be destroyed with giant lasers fired from Australia
Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
Oscar Pistorius murder trial: Athlete repeatedly sick as court hears 'graphic details' of Reeva Steenkamp's post-mortem
How climate change helped Genghis Khan: Scientists believe a sudden period of warmer weather allowed the Mongols to invade with such success
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 2 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 3 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 4 Steve Irwin’s final words: Cameraman present at death opens up about deadly stingray attack for the first time
- 5 Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks
£1000 per month: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ban...
£50000 - £57000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Leading West End law firm is...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education Cardiff require a W...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently recruit...