committee on standards in public life

The last time the three parties sat down in an “adult” fashion to discuss party funding – and how to reform it – the talks broke down in an acrimonious fashion. The Hayden Phillips review ran into the sand in late 2007 (although he believes he was inches away from an agreement).

Tomorrow (Thursday) the can of worms will be reopened by the the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is interviewing witnesses including Sir Hayden, Jack Straw, Francis Maude and David Heath. The sessions start at 9.30am at Church House in Dean’s Yard.

Reform of party funding is in the coalition agreement (page 21).

Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, is keen to end the passive way in which millions of pounds are delivered from the unions to Labour via their political funds. In particular the Tories are unhappy – and have been for years – with the fact that members have to “opt out” of the funds rather than “opt in”. That, they argue, is unfair given that many union members are Tory supporters.

The coalition is not prepared to risk acting unilaterally, however. It knows that hitting Labour’s coffers without a wider package of reforms to party funding would leave it open to charges of being partisan. Instead the Tories and Lib Dems will attend the inevitably slow multi-party talks with Labour and others that will follow the committee’s eventual report. Read more