Miliband given £1m by taxpayer to fill in 'blank sheet' with policy ideas

 

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 manifestoes 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, The Independent 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 under the little-known scheme before the end of the year, taking the running 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."

Under the policy grant development system, £2m a year is made available to the major political parties – defined as those with two or more MPs – to develop ideas to include in manifestos for local, national and European elections.

About three-quarters of the cash goes to Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats equally, with the rest divided between the Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru, the Democratic Unionists and the SDLP.

A Labour spokesman responded to Mr Glen's letter: "Even from the Tories this is desperate and risible stuff.

"Clearly they're rattled by the One Nation agenda Ed Miliband has set out. Whether it is the bank bonus tax, vocational education, plans to build 100,000 new homes, a youth jobs guarantee, cutting tuition fees, restorative policing and a proper plan for jobs and growth, it is Labour setting the agenda."

Mr Miliband announced the policy drive shortly after becoming leader, setting up a series of working parties to come up with voter-friendly ideas.

The subjects they were asked to consider included: making politics work for young people; women and development; innovation in food and farming; valuing our natural world.

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.

Privately, senior opposition figures acknowledge that they have produced little detailed policy. But they argue that it is more important to establish Mr Miliband in the public eye and set out the party's general direction of travel and to fill in the blanks closer to the election.

However, Labour sources said it was absurd for the Tories to protest over the payments as they received the same amount of money over the period.

Labour has received two payments of £342,459 each and others of £155,773 and £114,000

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