The deputy prime minister told the Commons: “This is not the right time to ask our hard-pressed taxpayers to pay out more to political parties at a time when they are having to deal with so many cuts and savings elsewhere.”
That is a strong signal given that extra state funding is the key to unlocking a deal between the three parties over the issue – which has foiled the efforts of some very bright people in recent years.
A key report is due next week which will signpost reform of the party political funding system; to be published by the “committee on standards in public life”. Its recommendations would mean the requirement of an extra £100m of state funding for political parties over a five-year term.
Interestingly, there is already disagreement within the committee with questions over whether there will be a unanimous report or a “majority” one, I’m told.
Leaks of the report suggest that there would be a £10,000-a-year cap on donations as well as some new restrictions on union donations. The size of the cap is unpopular with the Tories, who have many millionaire donors. (Lord Feldman, Tory co-chairman, has written to committee chairman Sir Christopher Kelly to oppose the cap – suggesting £50,000 instead). The Conservatives are also complaining that trade union members should be allowed to earmark their affilation fees to any party and not just Labour.
Labour meanwhile don’t like any restraints on their union link and are said to be hostile towards the report’s initial findings. The party’s finances have been slowly improving thanks to the generous “short money” now received in opposition.
For Clegg to join in on behalf of the third party – before the report is even published – implies (in the words of Patrick Wintour) that it is “in danger of being stillborn”.
It is understood that elements of the proposals could go ahead, such as introducing a cap on election spending: this is popular with officials within the main parties. But overall reform could remain the circle which is never squared.