Today’s hearing by the public standards committee (see Jim’s earlier post) on party financing began well
enough. Sir Hayden Phillips started on an optimistic note, saying, as he did earlier this morning on the BBC that he had been only inches away from a binding agreement.
He was followed by Francis Maude, Jack Straw (right) and David Heath, who all – to a certain extent – personified reason and moderation. They agreed that state funding would help bring resolution, but that it would be politically unpalatable. Maude and Straw promised major concessions, Maude on the issue of state funding and Straw on the issue of donation limits.
But all this was known, and none of this is why the agreement collapsed in 2007. Then, as now, the sticking point is union donations to Labour, which the Tories want to limit, but Labour insists are a key part of the party’s genetic make up. The Tories want union members to have an active choice over whether part of their affiliation fee goes to Labour, and would prefer them to opt in to such a scheme rather than opting out if they would prefer that money to go elsewhere.