The long-simmering issue of political party funding will come to the boil in October, when the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL, a sort of quango, set up in 1994, with members appointed by the Government and the three big parties) reports.
The Guardian of 30 August claimed that the CSPL has “agreed to recommend a new limit on donations, introducing an annual cap with figures ranging from £50,000 to £10,000 being considered”.
Ed Miliband has in the past tried to play clever on this issue, proposing a low cap but saying that union affiliation payments to the Labour Party should be unaffected because they are aggregates of millions of small individual donations.
The Guardian quoted a Tory official: “If the purpose of a cap is to deal with the perception that money can buy influence then it must apply equally to individuals, companies and trade unions, from whom the Labour party receives 85% of funding and who get extensive policy concessions in return”. Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg is also known to be keen to get a cap imposed.
The Guardian calculates that the cap would reduce Labour Party income by 72%. No political party without rich backers can operate unless it has some effective, organised, way of aggregating small individual donations, as Labour has through the unions’ political levies.
A rich backer, on the other hand, can easily circumvent a cap by channelling, say, a £500,000 donation in the form of ten ostensibly separate donations from family members or business colleagues.
Maggie O’Boyle of CSPL says that the committee is “still discussing”, and it will report “after the party conferences” (i.e. after 6 October).
Union leaders should speak out in defence of the right of working-class organisations collectively to fund political activity.