Francis Maude made it clear in March…

David Cameron has made it clear again tonight…

The Conservative Party will not agree to any increase in state funding for political parties unless Labour agrees to a cap on the donations it receives from trade unions.

In a letter to Mr Brown, the Tory leader has requested an urgent clarification on Labour’s intentions:

"There is no case for additional state funding for political parties without fundamental reform. The package currently proposed in these talks does not amount to the fundamental reform that is needed. In these circumstances I cannot and will not support any increase in state funding for political parties… A comprehensive cap on donations to political parties is essential. All common sense requires that to win public trust, no individual or body can remain exempt.  The cap must apply to trade union donations, whether directly or through affiliation fees."

Mr Cameron has agreed that there could be an extended transitional period to allow Labour to adjust to a world without union funding, but he is now hardening the Conservative position.  This will be a popular stance amongst the Conservative rank-and-file.  A ConservativeHome survey from May last year found that 81% opposed the idea that "a major proportion of funding for political parties should come from the state."

Mr Brown meanwhile is considering new legislation that would control spending between elections.  Labour MPs in marginal seats are anxious about the effect of Lord Ashcroft’s target seats fund which is helping the Tory candidates attempting to oust them.

Earlier this week, in an article for The Telegraph, Michael Ashcroft  defended his position:

  1. He said that he was not the only financial contributor to the ‘target seats fund’ but that "most of the money is given by others";
  2. That decisions about which target seats receive help are taken by a committee that he chairs but also includes "the party chairman, Caroline Spelman, professional party staff and senior volunteers";
  3. The fund was necessary to provide some counterbalance to the huge advantage afforded to incumbent MPs by a myriad of parliamentary allowances – a point made by Robert Halfon just over a week ago.  Ashcroft wrote: "At the 2005 election, Labour MPs coming to the end of their first term in parliament achieved an average vote share 3.3% lower than when they were elected in 2001. In Labour constituencies where the MP was standing down, the new candidate saw a drop in support almost three times as big. In other words, sitting MPs at general elections have a clear advantage over other candidates."  Sitting Labour MPs in the 100 most marginal seats have, he concludes, a £4 million-a-year head start.  The Tory target seats fund currently costs £2m.

11am, 21 October: The Observer on Geoff Hoon’s support for caps on Lord Ashcroft’s donations.

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