party funding

Ed Miliband took us all by surprise this morning when he went on the Andrew Marr show with a genuinely new proposal to reform party funding. The individual cap on donations should be set at £5,000, he said, way below Cameron’s preferred level of £50,000, and half of Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposal of £10,000.

Significantly, the Labour leader said this cap would include union donations. But, as always with this debate, the stumbling block is what happens with the levy – the automatic £3 that members of some unions pay to Labour as part of their subscription fees. At the moment, members may opt out of making such payments, but the Tories want them to back Sir Christopher’s proposal of having to opt in instead, something likely to have a significant impact on Labour’s coffers.

The row now turns on how much Labour actually makes from one-off union donations, which would be included under Miliband’s proposed cap, against how much it makes from the levy, which wouldn’t. Read more

Of all the websites used by political journalists, one is the endless source of frustration and angst: that of the Electoral Commission. This is the treasure trove with all the donations and loans made to every political party in Britain over the last decade or so. There are updates every three months on all new financial gifts made to the political world.

I have worked out how to navigate the site to find out who has given donations to which party – but only by calling the EC’s press office and asking for guidance some time ago. A member of the public wanting to find out these statistics faces a gruelling journey through the commission’s online maze.

If you go to the Electoral Commission site you can see what looks like an open and transparent breakdown of the Q2 donation figures, published yesterday. “Latest donations and borrowing figures” is up in highlights at the top of the page. So far so good.

That leads you to a summary of trends, total donation numbers and so on. All very useful. But how do you find out which individuals have given money to a certain party, for example Labour?

First you have to go down the right hand column of the main page until you find a tiny heading: “finance of parties”.

That takes you to a different page full of sprawling red and blue text. Click here on “search the PEF online registers”.

This takes you to a new page, which has a blue box on the top left with half a dozen options. One of these – probably “advanced donations search” – is your Holy Grail.

But it is not plain sailing now that you are on the final page. Here you are presented with a drop box of four options. Instead of clicking the one you want (political parties) you have to delete other three; third parties, regulated donee, permitted participant. Frustrated yet?

There is then a similar process for “entity name”. But this time there are hundreds of parties, including the Pensioners Party, the Pirate Party, the Old Read more

Plenty of coverage around today of the Independent’s story about Miliband’s plans to “sever big money ties with unions”. I predicted a week ago that the Labour leader was planning a symbolic gesture to show that he was not in hoc to the union barons; perhaps this is it?

Yet the reaction to the Indie story has got ahead of itself in terms of what it all means. Read more

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