Fundingcampaign_11A number of ConservativeHome visitors noted the absence of Tory MPs on the TV last week as Labour became engulfed in its loans-for-peerages scandal.  We all suspected that our party was hiding something and today’s Times suggests that it was…

Last night on David Cameron’s 101st day Michael Howard announced his decision to stand down at the next General Election.  Over the previous 100 days David Cameron has distanced himself from Michael Howard on immigration, tuition fees, tax and public service choice.  If today’s Times is correct Mr Cameron needs to act quickly to distance himself from Mr Howard’s fundraising record.  Andrew Pierce (who nearly always authors The Times’ Tory funding stories), David Charter and Philip Webster write:

"The Tory party averted one of the most serious financial plights in its history by securing secret loans of at least £20 million from rich benefactors, The Times can disclose.  It dwarfs the £14 million in loans negotiated for the Labour Party by Lord Levy, Tony Blair’s fundraiser, and finally admitted by the party yesterday. The revelation of the Tory figure will cause embarrassment for David Cameron."

The way for Mr Cameron to get ahead of this issue is to clean the stables at CCHQ and outflank Labour.  Reports in The Telegraph suggest that he is about to:

"In an interview in The Daily Telegraph today, the Conservative leader says he is "unhappy" with the present system.  He wants election spending limits cut by 25 per cent, from £20 million to £15 million. This would significantly relieve the pressure on fund-raisers who have become increasingly reliant on wealthy individuals."

The Tory leader also expressed support for moving away from loans that do not have to be declared but he declined to commit the party to act unilaterally.  The party should act unilaterally for reasons of moral leadership and for its own good.  Donors are deliberately choosing to lend to the party – rather than to give – because they know that this maximises their leverage on the party.  This is leaving the party precariously balanced on the top of a mountain of debt.  David Cameron promises to stand up to big business but a few big donors hold the party’s finances in the palm of their hands.

The Conservative Party will – it appears – come forward with more proposals on Monday.

Editor: "I hope Monday’s proposals do not include a cut in total permissible election spending.  This might only increase the relative power of individual big donors.  There should instead be a limit of approximately £100,000pa on the amount that any one person can give.  Donors wanting to give more should invest in other forms of conservative infrastructure as they have done – to great effect – in America.  Political parties should be able to raise as much money as they can from diverse funding sources.  Only a maximum limit on individual annual donations will force Britain’s political parties to invest in the kind of internet funding outreach that will produce a whole new kind of politics.  As the parties have to raise funds on the internet – and through other grassroots sources – they will have to reconnect with the concerns of ordinary voters.

My own guess is that state funding will come.  Conservatives should insist that such funding should only be released as a fixed proportion of the money that parties raise from private donors.  This will ensure that taxpayers’ money goes to the parties that have most public confidence.  The worst thing would be for public funding to be decided by insiders and incumbents who would use state funding to protect their positions."