A few quick thoughts on last night’s Dispatches

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last night featured the attempts of one business man to give lots of money to Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The programme has already led to Liberal Democrat peer Paul Strasburger temporarily resigning from the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords pending an investigation from the Electoral Commission. Here are my thoughts on the programme:

Lib Dems should not keep this money – and we aren’t

My instincts on seeing the programme was that the donation that he has procured should be returned because the programme made clear that it didn’t come from the person whose name was on the cheque. That’s not to say that I think there was conclusive evidence of wrong-doing. The Electoral Commission will rule on that and we should let them do their job. What is clear is that the Federal Party had no way of knowing that the donation had come from anyone other than the name on the cheque. I was glad to see Olly Grender confirm on Twitter that we are not keeping the money. It will either go back to the donor or to the Electoral Commission. Guidance is awaited on that point.

Cash for access?

The programme certainly gave an insight into the world of political fund-raising with the businessman concerned Paul Wilmott being invited to events with senior figures from the three parties in fairly short order. This I think is a much bigger deal in the Labour and Conservative parties than it is in the Liberal Democrats. Let’s face it, I’ve had longer conversations with Vince Cable than Paul Wilmott did and I don’t have loads of money. Senior Liberal Democrats are much more accessible than the likes of Cameron and Miliband. Let’s face it, I saw a new member at her first conference in Liverpool last week meet Nick Clegg and chat to him 3 times in the first evening. Our senior figures also spend massive amounts of time supporting local party dinners and campaigning. If you turn up to go canvassing in a key seat, there’s every chance you might be out with one of our senior MPs or Lords. It’s not like the Tories where your position in the room at a dinner depends on how much you have paid for your ticket.

While we’re at it, by the way, Cameron made some joke about Liberal Democrats eating Lentil Risotto. That’s not even a coherent dish and nothing I’ve been offered at any Lib Dem event ever. Lentil and banana salad, though, is the food of the gods. Seriously.

Money can’t buy policy

Similarly,  given the party’s democratic policy making structure, nobody is going to be able to make us change our policy by throwing money at us. Conference is our sovereign policy making body and wouldn’t care for such things.

Only two emails?

I found it quite amusing that so much was made of Wilmott receiving two emails about donating money to the party. Really? Only two? I get that many every day, or at least it feels that way. Austin Rathe clearly knows exactly which buttons he needs to press to make me give money – and if you’re a supporter, he probably knows yours too.

The Tories are on another planet

Not for the first time it was clear to me that the Tories inhabit a different planet than the rest of us. They had footage of that auction last month where someone paid more than my house is worth for a statuette of Margaret Thatcher. And then one of their ministers joked that someone on benefits would be able to afford something that was £55,000. They have no clue. Letting that lot into government on their own would be a massive mistake.

Where were the women?

My sense, looking at all the party’s events featured, was that these were very male affairs.

Remember who pushed for party funding reform

The most important thing, though, is to remember who has consistently argued for reform to party funding. Always. And who has blocked it. Always. Liberal Democrats have tried twice this decade to seriously sort out party funding. In 2009, in the wake of the expenses scandal, Nick Clegg wanted MPs to give up their holidays and pass a raft of measures to clean up politics but was thwarted by both Labour and the Tories. Similarly, in this Parliament, Nick wanted all sorts of  measures on Lords reform and party funding. Who blocked them? That’s right, Labour and the Tories. It therefore stands to reason that the more Liberal Democrats and the fewer Labour and Conservative MPs in the next Parliament, the better.





* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 24th Mar '15 - 1:46pm

    A good summary Caron.

    I think there are issues for FE (which we are both on) to look at. No-one should think that the approach articulated in the programme of X donating “on behalf” of Y to conceal it being Y’s donation could ever be acceptable and I think it is proper that we take steps to ensure no-one Labours under that misapprehension.

    My understanding is that proposed new rules / guidelines will come before the FE.

    There was evidence in the programme of all 3 parties appearing to give extra access for people who do or might make donations.

    That is a pernicious problem that, in my view, can only be dealt with by considerable legal reform including a cap on the amount a person can donate, as the USA has had in the past (until Citizens United) and other democracies do.

  • Denis Mollison 24th Mar '15 - 1:48pm

    I’m sure you’re right that Nick has done more to push for party funding reform than anyone in the Tories or Labour. But I was disappointed when he said not long ago that the public wouldn’t support public funding of parties.
    I believe that something on the lines of £1 per year for each vote at the last general election is the way to go, and that the public will support it if it’s done in combination with a low (at the very most 10 K) limit on individual donations – and NO donations from businesses: if businessmen wish to donate they should do it from their own individual money.

  • ‘I believe that something on the lines of £1 per year for each vote at the last general election is the way to go, ‘…….. what about those of us who have to vote ‘tactically’ until there is real PR?

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 24th Mar '15 - 3:15pm

    Iagree with Denis on banning company donations. They are a wide open loop hole by which people who would not be permissible donors themselves put money into political parties.

  • How is state funding for political parties going to do anything to improve the public’s perception of politics and politicians? It will be seen, rightly, as another stealth tax by the least cynical, and another means of politicians lining their pockets at the expense of the taxpayer by the rather more cynical. The argument in favour – that a healthy democracy requires reasonably well-funded political parties which have the resources to offer competing visions to the electorate – is a bit too abstract to cut much ice with most people. And what does all this money get spent on anyway? The professionalisation of politics in recent decades has gradually eroded the need for the ordinary elector to feel any ownership of the political process.

  • Peter Davies 24th Mar '15 - 6:27pm

    100 votes would pay for a deposit. It would be worth the SNP standing in England.

  • Peter Davies 24th Mar '15 - 6:34pm

    More seriously, shouldn’t votes in non-Westminster elections count for something?

  • Jane Ann Liston 25th Mar '15 - 9:16am

    Did the programme name the MPs and peers who declined the approaches?

  • Anders Hanson 25th Mar '15 - 11:33am

    I imagine this also wouldn’t be that popular with voters, but I’d be keen to see gift aid on individual political donations just as happens with charitable donations, instead of state funding. Those of us who give to parties see it as much of a good cause as charities and similarly about improving the world we live in, so perhaps should be treated the same, and by necessity would need to be linked to an individual giving not a company.

  • ” Money can’t buy policy
    Similarly,  given the party’s democratic policy making structure, nobody is going to be able to make us change our policy by throwing money at us. ”

    I would love to believe this. It would be a dramatic change from the past if it were true.

    For decades the Nuclear Industry has bought a presence at Liberal Democrat Conferences, made friends and influenced people. Wined and dmed people at the top of the party. It took the Nucelar Lobbysits a long time but when it really mattered Liberal Democrat Secetaries of State authorised the building of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley to be subsidised to a dramatic degree. “No subsidies” the Conference was told. This subsidised new nuclear power station was against the Conference Policy agreed only weeks before in Autumn 2013.

    Some would say it is very vulgar and inconvenient for me to mention it. Some would say that decades during which the Nuclear Industry spent a fortune on PR and Lobbying was NOT BUYING POLICY.

    Many long-standing Liberal Democrats still in the party (some aho are much more respectable and senior than me) would say that it was a classic example of “buying policy”.

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