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In the Commons yesterday Francis Maude MP clashed with Jack Straw MP on Government plans to restrict CCHQ funding of target seats between elections:

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Francis Maude: "Does the Secretary of State not understand that it would be an
atrocious abuse of power for the Government to force through
restrictions on what parliamentary candidates can spend from money they
have raised privately, while sitting MPs can spend ever-more taxpayers’
money on promoting themselves?"

Jack Straw: "Had he addressed himself to the available research—the much better research—by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, he would have seen, for example, that spending donations received in local Conservative parties and marginal seats averaged £19,600, compared with £6,500 and £7,700 in Labour and Liberal Democrat marginals. What we—and, I believe, the Liberal Democrats—wish to see, and what the Conservative party wished to see until last summer is sensible, non-partisan rules that we can come together and agree on. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Conservative party will think again."

Most of Mr Maude’s brief response to Jack Straw focused on Labour’s dependence on the trade unions and how this was blocking the possibilities for reform of political funding:

Trade union donations to Labour aren’t voluntary: "Does he recall that he and Peter Watt—the then Labour general secretary—refused point blank even to discuss giving trade union members the right to a real choice in whether to pay the political levy? [Interruption.] Well, does the Secretary of State remember the revelation that a Lib Dem MP received a ballot paper for Labour’s leadership contest, having unwittingly become a Labour party member through a trade union? Will he not acknowledge that when trade unions routinely declare that 100 per cent. of their members—and in two cases, more than 100 per cent.—are paying the political levy, the idea that these are voluntary individual donations to Labour are laughable, especially when polling shows that fewer than half of union members even vote Labour, let alone want to support it financially?"

92% of Labour funds come from the unions: "Last year, we came close to an overall comprehensive agreement that could genuinely have started to repair the public’s trust in politics, and I say to the Justice Secretary that we can still achieve this. However, it would require Labour to accept that dependence on a small number of union bosses has to end. Sadly, it is hard to see that happening when 92 per cent. of Labour’s income comes from the unions, who even now are squaring up to demand their payback in the form of a Warwick agreement mark 2. It is precisely Labour’s dependence on these union bosses and the big donor culture that is preventing us from getting the reform that our politics so desperately needs."

More in Hansard.

Related Parliament link: Labour MP makes case for urgent legislation to stop Lord Ashcroft and CCHQ from funding target seats.

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