Leading article: Clegg's chance to clean up

Share
Related Topics

Surely, if we learnt anything from the "loans for peerages" story, which this newspaper helped to break six years ago, it was that party funding should be kept away from the honours system. Yet the New Year Honours list tries again to push that water back uphill.

It has been alleged that Paul Ruddock is unsuited to a knighthood either because he ran a hedge fund, or because his fund made money by betting against the viability of Northern Rock and other banks, or both. The Independent on Sunday is not, we hope, naive about free markets. A hedge fund is simply a kind of investment vehicle, and it is neither desirable nor possible to legislate against financial speculation. The "short sellers" were not the cause of the troubles of the banks in 2007-08; they were more like a disclosing tablet, revealing problems that were already serious.

No, the reason for feeling uneasy about Sir Paul is that he has donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party since 2003. That unease is not assuaged by knowing that he is chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum and that his citation is "for services to the Arts". It is slightly reduced by his nomination being made by the independent honours committee, the defence to which David Cameron's spokesman clung yesterday. But Tony Blair set up the independent committee system and tried to pretend that he had done away with "political honours", and much good it did him, too. It was no use his protesting that party donors should not be disqualified from receiving honours. The only way to ensure confidence in the honours system is to separate it from political donations altogether.

Yesterday's honours list looked like a tentative step in the wrong direction. The appointment of Gerald Ronson, convicted of fraud in the Guinness scandal, as CBE didn't help. Mr Cameron's doctrine of the second chance was tested enough by his keeping Andy Coulson, disgraced editor of the News of the World, as his head of communications for so long. The idea that the honours system is a necessary part of the rehabilitation of offenders is also going too far.

To whom, then, should we look to take forward the reforms of honours and of party funding? What about Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition? Despite his being imposed upon his MPs and party members by a form of guided democracy among trade unionists, he has promised to reform the party's trade union links. As we report today, important new plans are expected from him soon. If he can break the deadlock over party funding reform by linking the party directly with individual trade unionists rather than union bosses, Mr Miliband will deserve praise. Until then, his way of avoiding over-reliance on union leaders takes the form of Andrew Rosenfeld, the former tax exile and Tory donor.

While we wait for Mr Miliband, what are the Liberal Democrats for if not to keep the coalition honest? Whose answering machine at the last election asked us to leave a message after the high moral tone? It was Nick Clegg who, when MPs' expenses were reported, declared: "We need to use this as a once-in-a-generation chance to clean politics up from top to toe." And Mr Clegg does have leverage: he forced Mr Cameron to set up the Leveson inquiry into the excesses of, among others, the Prime Minister's friends, the Murdochs.

But three-party talks on a set of rules to limit the influence of rich donors and union general secretaries ran aground on the vested interests of the Conservatives and Labour. So let us hear from the Deputy Prime Minister about how he will persuade Mr Cameron to accept some limits on rich donors in return for reform of trade union funding, at a time when public opinion will not accept further increases in public funding.

The early signs are not hopeful. The Lib Dems have accepted donations that they should not have accepted in the past. It has been noted that the knighthood for Bob Russell, the Lib Dem MP, was for "public service", whereas Roger Gale and Joan Ruddock, the Conservative and Labour MPs, were honoured for "public and political services". Changing the words does not change the system, Mr Clegg.

The Lib Dems will have to do more than this if they are to restore confidence in the honours system; and a great deal more if they are to shame the two larger parties into agreeing rules to ensure that politics is free from the purchase of influence.

That is a huge test for Mr Clegg in 2012, but he cannot afford to fail.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Plumbing & Heating / Bathroom Trade Counter Sales

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established London ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Children shouldn’t even know the word 'diet' — obesity and lack of body confidence are symptoms of the same cause

Natasha Devon
Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in New York  

Tidal: An overpriced music streaming service that only benefits the super-rich members of a messianic-like cult? Where do I sign up??

Michael Segalov
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat