Are Labour digging their heels in on party funding?

Committee on standards in public life is to publish its report shortly
Committee on standards in public life is to publish its report shortly

By Alex Stevenson

Delays to the party funding review's looming report might have something to do with the opposition - but it would be wrong to get dragged into a blame game.

Those following the work of the committee on standards in public life have been awaiting the publication of its review of the way political parties are funded for some time now. They're growing rather impatient: it's been around the corner for a while, but has never quite appeared.

One reason for this might be the review's natural desire to secure that oh-so-elusive approval from all the main political parties over the big issues. It's thought that Margaret Beckett, the Labour representative on the committee, has only recently begun raising concerns to some of its proposals.

The report is trying to work out ways of raising state funding as a way of making up for a clampdown on big donations by individuals. The Lib Dems are keen on this, as any form of state funding would be likely to see them end up with more money than they have at present. The Tories, who get the most out of the big spenders, are thoroughly reluctant.

As it happens, we've got an analysis piece on state funding in from Matthew Ashton of Nottingham Trent University. He points out some of the headaches which it brings with it, revealing it to be far from the panacea some claim it to be. It's fascinating reading.

Even the Conservatives might be persuaded that a donation cap is possible if a way could be found to cut off Labour's trade union funding. The unions were the sticking point for the review before this one; right-wingers argue that their donations should be viewed as one lump sum, meaning a donation cap of - say- £50,000 would see their contributions barred. They argue all donors need to be treated the same, scuppering an alternative proposal to exempt trade unions by arguing their funding actually comes from lots of individuals.

It's that opposition which is thought to have undermined the present debate. Labour, petulant in opposition, are not being especially cooperative. They felt they tried quite hard to secure cross-party consensus during their time in government. But the coalition has been brazen in its enthusiasm for partisan-driven constitutional changes - electoral registration, boundary changes, you name it - arguably justifying Labour's temper tantrums.

As elsewhere in the constitutional reform agenda, it seems party politicking is never far from the surface. Watch this space for the review's final report.


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