Leading article: A chance, at last, to take the big money out of politics

 

Share
Related Topics

A great many cynical reasons might be advanced for the proposal made by the Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, to advance the reform of party funding.

Interviewed on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, he called for a £5,000 cap on all individual donations to political parties. That is half the maximum proposed by Sir Christopher Kelly, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner late last year, and a tenth of the £50,000 maximum on individual gifts favoured by the Conservatives. It is, on the face of it, an audacious and radical move.

In timing and in substance, however, it also serves Mr Miliband well. He has not been having an easy time of it as Labour leader and often struggles to make the headlines, let alone to attract positive reviews when he gets there. To trump Sir Christopher's proposed limit on individual donations cannot help but catch the eye. Then there is Mr Miliband's supposed dependency on the trade unions for beating his elder brother to the party leadership. "In hock to the unions" is a charge that continues to dog him, despite his reluctance to support trade union protests against public sector spending cuts.

The Labour Party is also strapped for cash, so slashing contributions for everyone would suit its purposes. It is also true that the effects of such a low cap would be lopsided, even if – as Mr Miliband says – it would also apply to trade unions. But that is part of the point. Big individual Labour donors, outside the unions, are relatively few and far between. A low cap on gifts would affect Labour far less than the Conservatives – which is, of course, why their preferred cap is so much higher. A further criticism would be that the levy which trade union members pay to the Labour Party would remain, and remain as an opt-out, rather than, as funding reformers have advocated, an opt-in. Again, this would leave Labour with its trade union advantage.

For all these reasons it could be claimed – as a Conservative party spokesman did yesterday – that Mr Miliband's proposal is "virtually meaningless". His proposed cap is so low as to invite rejection from the other parties out of hand.

Yet such a response would be too hasty. In bringing trade union contributions to party funding into play at all, Mr Miliband is offering a concession that could open up new territory for discussion. He is also tackling something of a Labour taboo. Both are welcome. So is his decision to broach the vexed question of party funding at all. Low-key talks between representatives of the three main parties opened last week, with the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, confirming that they would explore the six-month old recommendations made by Sir Christopher Kelly. If this review is being given a second look, that is also positive.

Few believe that current arrangements for funding Britain's political parties are at all satisfactory. The whole system has long been dogged by scandal, from cash for peerages to cash for access, with the latest claiming the scalp of the Conservative Party co-treasurer, Peter Cruddas, after he was recorded apparently offering access to the Prime Minister for a price. Clearly, the earmarking of taxpayers' money for the running of political parties is difficult in the present climate, what with the squeeze on public spending generally and the widespread unpopularity of politicians.

This unpopularity, though, is partly a consequence of the difficulties that all political parties face in raising funds and the unsavoury relationships that can result. Public funding is the only realistic, transparent and equitable alternative to a system that is both unfair and deeply discredited. It is hard to be optimistic that all parties will easily find a compromise, but Ed Miliband's proposal is a modest move in the right direction.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher, full time supply role, Medway Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Our client school in Chatham, a ...

Geography Teacher, Dover School, full time role

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is urgently s...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Cameron's unexpected tax pledges give the Tories home advantage

Andrew Grice
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?