Time for new rules

First published in Comment

THE most dispiriting thing about yesterday’s revelations concerning cash for access in the upper echelons of the Conservative party is that they were all so grimly predictable.

The previous Labour Government saw its credibility ebb away in the wake of a series of damaging financial allegations, culminating in the cash for honours crisis that forced the party to repay a number of loans.

In 2010, Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon, Margaret Moran and Stephen Byers were all suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after they were secretly filmed offering to help influence policy for money.

At the time, David Cameron described the matter as “shocking”, yet here we are just two years later and his own party now find themselves accused of something equally as unpalatable.

Having danced around the issue of political funding in both government and opposition, it is time for all three major parties to put partisanship to one side in order to agree a new set of rules that will remove the opportunity for immorality.

Last November, the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life produced a report that concluded: “The only way to remove the suspicion surrounding very large donations would be to ban very large donations.”

It suggested a ban on donations above £10,000 and more taxpayer funding of political parties.

Its findings would have major implications for the Conservatives, who would have to cede the electoral advantage they gain from having more wealthy supporters than their opponents, and Labour, who would have to reframe their relationship with the trade unions.

But with yesterday’s revelations having eroded public confidence in political life even further, surely it is now time to grasp the nettle and introduce a funding system that is both transparent and tightlyregulated.

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