The inter-party talks announced as a result of the latest cash for access scandal are a real opportunity to deal with the corrosive damage done by our defective system of party funding. The system may not be corrupt but it is obviously corruptible.
When the parties sit down I hope that they will put aside their entrenched party positions and think about the impact these successive scandals are having on public trust in our political process.
The parties’ individual positions on this issue make sense when looked at from their point of view. The conservatives have a large number of wealthy supporters who would be able to give £50,000 a year – the level of cap that they propose. My Committee’s view was that this was much too high to convince anyone that the ‘big money’ had been taken out of politics.
Labour take the view that the large donations from the trades unions come from a collection of smaller gifts from a large number of individuals and should be treated as such. To make that credible my Committee thought they needed to make a number of changes in the way those contributions are collected and paid.
We need to break the impasse between the parties.
The blueprint for reform we published last Autumn was reasonable and fair and, because we are independent, free of party political advantage. We proposed donation limit of £10,000, a reduction in party expenditure at elections, tax relief on small donations and, controversially, some additional state funding at least in the short term. Having looked at this issue in detail, the uncomfortable truth is that there really is no credible way to remove the big money without it.
The damage done to public confidence in our elected representatives in recent years by expenses revelations and donations scandals cannot be underestimated. Sustainable reform will only come about if it is even-handed. It really is time to put the national interest first.
Sir Christopher Kelly is chairman of the Committte on Standrads in Public Life