Just back from David Cameron’s latest press conference and I asked him a question about state funding of political parties. I quoted ConservativeHome research that said that four-fifths of party members would be prepared to give more to central funds if the party could no longer rely on big donors like Lord Ashcroft.
David Cameron replied that he thought that it "unrealistic" to impose a £50,000 limit on private donations and say "no additional state funding."
Other highlights of the press conference:
- Conservatives would only accept a deal on extra state funding of political parties if the £50,000 cap was imposed across the board and if there was an overall reduction in the cost of politics. He specifically highlighted the abolition of regional assembly structures and the end to the new MPs’ communications allowance.
- £30m had been raised by the party since he became leader.
- There were now 120 donors giving £50,000.
- Lord Ashcroft gives less to the Conservative Party than Mittal and Sainsbury give to Labour and only 4% of total Tory income.
- He refused to be drawn on questions about Lord Ashcroft’s income tax status from Newsnight’s Michael Crick. Only saying that he had complied with the undertakings given when he became a peer.
- The Conservative Party wasn’t perfect but had good systems and good people for its fundraising.
- He opposes controls on political spending between elections because it (1) wouldn’t be fair – opposition parties need to be able to combat the advantages enjoyed by incumbent MPs and by governments with "thousands of press officers" and (2) it would nationalise politics – activists would be driven out of politics by the need to record what was raised at every cheese and wine evening and spent on every leaflet drop.
- He opposed a ban on billboard advertising – "That would be more Stalin than Bean".
Mr Cameron said that the recent issues surrounding Labour donations suggest that the Labour machine is either "utterly dysfunctional" or we weren’t being told "the whole truth".
The Conservative leader confirmed that Patrick Mercer had agreed to advise the Conservatives on military welfare issues. Although Mr Mercer had made a "serious mistake" when he was forced to resign he was a "valued MP" with "valuable expertise".
Also in the press conference, Mr Cameron noted a conversation he had just had with Sayeeda Warsi who has helped to successfully negotiate a pardon for Gillian Gibbons in Sudan.
He announced that he and George Osborne were going to China from 17th to 20th December for meetings with politicians and business leaders for discussions on economic and environmental issues.