10 Downing Street is reportedly hoping the Conservatives will – through Sir Hayden Phillips’ review – accept capping constituency campaign expenditure in return for the unions voluntarily ceasing to give large donations to the Labour Party. This potential deal is a little one-sided.
There is of course a cap in place already but it only counts within four weeks of election day. Conservatives usually outspend the other parties in the period before this by having more active and affluent Constituency Associations, and by receiving funding from safe seats, and donors such as Lord Ashcroft who orchestrated a large private funding scheme for marginal seats at the last election.
Labour’s National Executive Committee published its review into party funding in June, specifically mentioning Ashcroft’s target seat support as something a local cap could curtail. The only justification being that it didn’t make sense to merely cap four weeks out of a four year electoral cycle. Downing Street is also hoping that spending caps will start as soon as candidates are selected, thereby reducing the impact of the Conservatives choosing some candidates very early. Bizarrely there is also mention of only applying such caps to the 100 most marginal seats.
The Labour Party’s position seems motivated purely by political expediency which in itself is hardly shocking, but at least the Conservative proposal to cap individual donations will be healthy for democracy. If there is to be a cap on such donations, then why limit how much a campaign can raise from diverse sources and popular support?