Party funding: Depressing thoughts on a dark day

Party funding sounds boring, but it's a key part of how power and money interact in our country. This is why it's so depressing that today's critical report resulted in huge dissent from all three main parties.

Labour and the Conservatives' representatives on the committee on standards in public life, which has spent the last year coming up with proposals to remove big money from politics, both issued dissenting notes making clear that they weren't happy at all.

That left the Liberal Democrats, who through a spokesperson for their leader Nick Clegg reiterated their lack of appetite to take on the wrath of public opinion by proposing more money for political parties in the current climate.

Earlier today I tried to argue that it might not be all doom and gloom. If the economy recovers and a middle ground can be found between Labour and the Tories, we might find ourselves with a deal sooner or later.

That elusive middle ground rests on more transparency from the parties' accounts, however. It's staggering how Britain still doesn't have standard reporting rules in place for where parties' money comes from. "We found numerous discrepancies and anomalies", today's report complains. As a result the figures the committee used "may be neither completely accurate, nor completely consistent". This is, put simply, a joke.

As @Stuart Wilks-Heeg from Democratic Audit tweeted to me earlier: "Clearer, standardised party accounts might seem like a very prosaic outcome, but it really would help!"

I'm currently battling through the prosaic-ness in a bid to find out what the parties think. They are being deliberately obfuscatory about this, as you'd expect. At stake is one key question: will they commit to complying with the set of common accounting standards they have agreed to with the Electoral Commission?

"We understand that compliance is voluntary, which we do not regard as satisfactory," today's report complains.

If they don't agree, it later adds, "the Electoral Commission should use existing powers to enforce them". Will the Electoral Commission take this opportunity to flex its muscles, or shy away from confrontation with the parties? That's the question at stake right now.

Meanwhile, we've had two great pieces in from analysts looking at the issue. One, from our party funding expert Dr Matthew Ashton of Nottingham Trent University, looks at the problems with implementing the report, even if the parties had agreed to implement it.

The other, from Transparency International's executive director Chandu Krishnan, reminds us exactly why we urgently need reform in the first place.