Leading article: How to avoid backroom loans and dodgy deals

Share

We must not imagine that the dilemma over how to fund political parties is a problem only in Britain. It is a question that vexes the entire democratic world. We should also recognise that it is not only the Labour Party that is struggling with the problem. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have an unhealthy dependence on a small number of wealthy benefactors too. So, from one perspective, the loans scandal afflicting the Government is simply another symptom of one of the great unresolved issues of democratic politics.

This puts the recent behaviour of the Government into context. But it does not excuse it. In the mid-1990s New Labour promised to deliver Britain from the years of Tory sleaze. It was Tony Blair himself who told us that his Government would be "purer than pure" in office. The Prime Minister deserves credit for introducing a greater degree of transparency into party funding by making big donations to Labour declarable. But this only makes what we have learntabout Labour's covert acceptance of £14m in undeclared loans before the last general election all the more distasteful. Mr Blair tried to get round the very transparency regulations that he had introduced. Those who wonder why so much of the public is cynical about politics need only examine Mr Blair's conduct in this affair to understand why. It is no good the Prime Minister complaining that the Conservative Party has long indulged in the same practice. He asked to be judged by a higher standard. He cannot now complain when he is held to that.

Yesterday's scrabbling around by the Lord Chancellor to repair the damage done to the Prime Minister's reputation by this affair is too little, too late. The Lord Chancellor announced that all loans to political parties should be declared in future, and a former civil servant has been charged with conducting a review of the party funding system. This will not be the end of the matter, though. Labour's National Executive Committee meets today, at which the party's treasurer, Jack Dromey, will detail the preliminary findings of his inquiry into the affair. And yesterday's release by Labour of the list of lenders will only increase speculation about what has been given in return for this largesse. As a political scandal, this is far from over.

Yet, while all this is going on, the central question about how to fund our political parties should not be neglected. The Conservative proposals outlined yesterday are on the whole a sensible contribution to the debate. The Tories are calling for state funding for parties to match votes at the previous general election. They also want a cap on the size of donations, and tax relief for benefactors. Another proposal is for a general election spending limit for each party of £15m. But other aspects of the Tory plan are misguided. The call for a cut in the number of MPs as a quid pro quo for state funding of political parties is pure populism. MPs are not an expendable element of modern politics. Many have much busier constituency workloads nowadays as a result of the deficiencies of local government. There are many better ways the state can save money.

But it is understandable that the Tories are searching for some way to make state funding of parties palatable to the general public. Many will wonder why we should be forced to pay for the privilege of politicians touring the country demanding our votes every few years. We do not argue that state funding is a perfect solution. But it is the least bad option and the only realistic way of achieving a cleaner politics. The alternative is to struggle on with the present sleazy system of dodgy loans, backroom deals, honours-for-sale and hidden influence in our democratic life.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little