David Cameron has now announced Conservative proposals to ‘clean up politics’. The proposals are the product of a three month study by Andrew Tyrie MP. Full details can be found in a pdf on conservatives.com but the main recommendations are listed below (with Editor’s comments):
- An upper limit "on donations from individuals, trade unions, corporations and institutions" of £50,000. "This," the party says, "will end parties’ reliance on a small number of large donations and address concerns about donations buying honours or influencing policy". It is a tighter restriction than the £100,000 suggested by ConservativeHome but a speedy vindication of our campaign. It also offers great opportunities for the ‘conservative movement’. The big donors who have sunk all their treasure into CCHQ can soon invest it in The Taxpayers’ Alliance, think tanks and, er, um, ConservativeHome!
- Tax relief on donations of up to £3,000. This is to be welcomed. Giving to a political party is a public-spirited thing to do and should be honoured in the same way that charitable giving is encouraged.
- "A ban on all forms of loans to parties, except from financial institutions on fully commercial terms, should be imposed." Labour – rightly – seems poised to legislate for this immediately.
- There would be additional state funding in the Tory proposals but this would be paid for by reductions in other costs of politics: "a reduction in the number of special advisers, the abolition of Regional Assemblies, and consideration to a reduction in the number of MPs." This seems a reasonable deal for the taxpayer.
- Additional state funding based on the number of votes a party received at the previous General Election. The Tories propose a one-off £1.20 for each vote received at a General Election plus 60p per vote every year. This is the least attractive recommendation. The parliamentary allowance given to MPs already provides a significant advantage to incumbent politicians. The advantage to incumbency will only be increased by a financial awards scheme that reflect the choices of yesteryear’s voters. "Additional state funding" should be proportionate to a political party’s current ability to fundraise.
- A reduction in permitted General Election expenditure from £20m to £15m. This seems a reasonable proposal. Much of current expenditure is wasted on billboard advertising (and not very good billboard advertising at that). I know plenty of Tory candidates fighting LibDems who hated anti-Labour billboards appearing on their turf. Coalition-building and narrowcast campaigning is the way of the future (but none of this is cheap).
- A final proposal: "A statutory Honours Commission, accountable to both Houses of Parliament, to replace the House of Lords Appointments Commission and to assume from ministers the task of making recommendations to The Queen for all honours.” Fair enough.
The Tory Party is clear that these recommendations intend to break the union-Labour link:
"[The proposals] offer Tony Blair and Gordon Brown the opportunity once and for all to end the Labour Party’s reliance on trade union funding – and with it the suspicion that the unions act as a brake on vital public service improvement plans."
For that reason it is difficult to see Labour accepting them.