Some progress on party funding reform – comments please!


The adage “if you want to keep something secret, say it in the House of Commons” certainly extends to the Lords on Fridays, when Private Members Bills are taken.

However, our team made significant progress last week in pushing the government to take seriously their own manifesto commitment “to continue to seek agreement on a comprehensive package of party funding reform”.  We have been plugging away at this by whatever means possible, including by initiating a special Select Committee on party funding reform last year, and by introducing my Political Parties (Funding and Expenditure) Bill last week.  I opened the debate, and Chris Rennard and Ian Wrigglesworth both spoke too.  We received support also from Labour Peer Larry Whitty, and from the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Paul Bew.

For decades, Lib Dems have sought a cap on individual donations – to limit the auction of influence and access to government and senior political figures which now takes place.  In return, a limited element of public funding – linked to support in the country – would be needed to ensure the parties could continue their campaigning.

The trade off is for each citizen to contribute perhaps fifty or sixty pence per year, giving each one an equal influence, and stopping Prime Ministers from charging £250,000 for a ticket to dinner.  This need not involve a net increase in spending on politics, nor a net increase in tax, since there are good ways – as Nick Clegg made clear in recent evidence (pdf) to a Lords Select Committee – to reallocate existing spending on political parties and advertising.

Meanwhile, LDV readers will have noticed the significant abuses of the election expenditure limits which Michael Crick and others have been exposing on Channel 4.  Some of these are under police investigation, and we will find out in due course whether any cases get to court.  However, in some instances, candidates, parties and their agents will be judged not to have committed any offence even if the spirit of the law appears to have been breached.  When I first standing for election, my agent and I were scared stiff of a potential jail sentence if the expenditure limits at constituency level were breached.  Now, ‘national’ or so-called ‘party’ expenditure limits permit a huge amount of extra campaigning, all with the clear aim of influencing constituency level results.

The Minister, Lord (George) Young, has been debating these and other constitutional issues with me for some 57 years.  He agreed on Friday to setup a cross-party discussion with the Minister for the Constitution, Chris Skidmore, to see if we could “break the logjam”, by agreeing some “incremental” measures for reform.  This may not be the radical, comprehensive package we Lib Dems would want but it does provide a chance to examine what “increments” the government might consider making in the meantime.  Revisiting the rules on expenditure could surely be a starting point.

Our constitutional affairs team will be discussing what to make our priorities for the discussion this week, so please do leave your experiences of fighting elections and feedback on priorities in the comments section.

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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  • Robert Wootton 15th Mar '17 - 12:24pm

    My view is that all donations to political parties should be made through the Electoral Commission organisation. The identity of the donor, the amount donated, and the name of the party to which the donation is given would be known by the Electoral Commission alone. In effect, all donations to political parties would be anonymous.

  • Robert Wootton 15th Mar '17 - 12:36pm

    Regarding election campaigning expenditure, perhaps having a “cap” on the National Party’s expenditure in addition to the current limits on a candidates campaign expenditure at the local level.
    Regarding the funding of Political Parties, I have advocated that publicly elected persons (MPs, Councillors, etc.) should be classed as Public Self Employed and up to 10% of their income could be donated to their respective parties and set against their tax liability. But they would have to publish annual audited accounts as do PLCs.

  • Richard Robinson 15th Mar '17 - 12:59pm

    A few suggestions – assuming that you are looking for something achievable quickly.

    I agree that revising expenditure rules should be a start, in particular a clearer split of what should be counted within constituency spending limits (e.g. the 2015 Cameron ‘blue letter’ mail shot) and a requirement that cost allocations between local and national expenditure are consistent across all returns, local and national (if necessary, getting the Electoral Commission to provide guidance on cost allocations).

    Also, I suggest monthly (not quarterly) reporting to the Electoral Commission, principally to get all parties used to doing this regularly.

    Some agreement to restrict or ban data harvesting for political purposes before it becomes commonplace, if necessary through spending limits.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Mar '17 - 2:33pm
  • Richard Underhill 15th Mar '17 - 3:49pm

    The ‘i’ reports today 15/3/2017, that Arron Banks has been suspended from UKIP and will set up a new movement. He says that the current UKIP leadership “couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding” “… comments about the party being run like a squash club committee and Mr Carswell have not gone down well”.
    The I continues that he “recently said that he would stop his donations unless he was made party chairman and allowed to conduct a purge of members.”

  • Martin Roche 15th Mar '17 - 4:07pm

    This is an issue really bothers voters. Great to see the Liberal Democrats taking the lead and in the Lords. Might an idea to have a template letter that MPs. councillors and others can adjust to suit and send to local papers. E.g. Liberal Democrats call for urgent reform of political party funding.

  • Denis Mollison 16th Mar '17 - 8:32am

    Some basic principles, following the idea that voters are individuals who are supposed to have equal influence on who governs them. And that parties should have enough money to communicate their policies.

    1. Only individuals should be allowed to give money to parties. Directors of businesses should give from their own – post-tax – money.

    2. No individual should be allowed to give an amount that could affect significant decisions. Thinking of (e.g.) local planning decisions, this suggests a limit of at the very most £10 K / year.

    3. A stronger principle would be to have a limit of the kind of amount that a person on an average wage could give, say £1 K / year.

    4. If the above don’t provide enough for parties to communicate their policies to the voters, there should be a small per head government contribution, perhaps £1 / year for each vote at the previous election.

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