What can anyone say about the ongoing scandal concerning party funding?
As a member of the Labour Party, I have to say that I’m absolutely hopping mad about the Abrahams ‘dodge’ of paying through third party’s, and utterly disgusted that people at the top of the party organisation knew about it and didn’t think it was a problem. I’m no expert on the law, but I think it’s pretty obvious that this is a no-no.
Personally, I don’t care how high up they are, if people working for the Party knew about this and didn’t question it, then they should be sacked.
The problem of how we pay for our political parties will not go away, although I think that stiffer spending caps would be a good way to reduce the pressure and would mean less expensive adverts cluttering up the screens.
The media are loving this, and there’s always potential for an error (such as Hain’s campaign not fully registering all donations properly) being blown up into part of the mire. It’s quite clear that the person who makes an illegal donation is the prime wrongdoer. If due diligence is carried out and a problem is not carried out, then the recipient can’t be blamed. However, if they did know that the donation was iffy, then they have acted outside the law. If they didn’t check and a such a check can reasonably have been shown to show something up, then they have at least been negligent.
However, it’s strange that all this focus is put on to one party. The Lib Dems had a real problem with a major donor who turned out to be ineligible – and quite possibly giving them other people’s money. The Tories are being very quiet about Lord Ashcroft (who was ennobled after he started bunging them large amounts, but apparently ‘cash for honours isn’t an issue for him) who appears to still be a tax exile, despite promising to regularise his affairs with HMRC, and who gives the Party a lot of money through third parties – companies, not individuals – as well as flying the leader and shadow cabinet out on top-class jets all over the world at bargain basement prices.
Of course, Labour would have less of a problem with money if the income from the unions and members wasn’t on the slide. My view is that the decline of union participation is not something that the Party has taken seriously enough. For some reason, the unions have been regarded as trouble-makers (when often they have been the stalwart supporters of the leadership against us uppity full members). Party membership has slipped over the past ten years, and I detect that quite a bit of that is down to disappointment with the course of the Government, and with the way that the party changed under the New Labour ethos of centralised control.
The main issue that I have about the centralised control links back to the start of this piece – that they may think that they know what they are doing, but at times the organisation of the party leaves a lot to be desired. The historic problems with membership systems appear to have been solved after many years of complaints, but regional and central offices really are not responsive and as we have seen, have been complacent about something as fundamental as keeping within the law on donations.
Luckily, the party central office have very little to do with the Government. However, with civil servants ignoring the Data Protection Act at the same time…