State must step in to fund parties

THE stench over huge, undeclared loans to political parties has quite rightly upset the vast majority of voters. The most despicable aspect of the current row is that the political party which legislated to make all donations over £5,000 declarable has got round its own law by accepting loans, which do not have to be disclosed.

THE stench over huge, undeclared loans to political parties has quite rightly upset the vast majority of voters. The most despicable aspect of the current row is that the political party which legislated to make all donations over £5,000 declarable has got round its own law by accepting loans, which do not have to be disclosed.

It is such hypocrisy that will forever taint the Blair premiership. The whole rotten saga was summed up yesterday by Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who when challenged in a radio interview over whether the Government would be changing the law if party treasurer Jack Dromey had not made his dramatic revelations last week, he replied: “I don't think we would be doing it if it had not become public.”

Separate cash accounts controlled by Downing Street without even the knowledge of the Deputy {Prime Minister John Prescott let alone Labour's treasurer leaves Tony Blair still having to answer the questions: Was he aware how much these four donors had lent Labour money before he nominated them for peerages? Why didn't Labour officials leave their Old Queen Street offices and take the two minute walk to Victoria Street and ask the bank managers of the major banks for loans?

Sheepishly Labour is now going to amend legislation currently before Parliament. But as Tory policy director Oliver Letwin said yesterday “If you are going to have a functioning democracy and we are going to prevent large donations, we have to be willing to accept some form of taxpayer support.”


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My solution won't be popular. The first action needed is to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a 100% directed elected senate - that get over the need to nominate anyone to sit there. We should cap the amount of cash parties spend on campaigning in all elections and fund 80% through state aid, the balance to be met by transparent loans and donations.

But which parties should benefit from handouts? If brought in before the next election, is it restricted to parties with MPs? If so, the cash will go to Labour, the Tories, Lib Dems, Democratic Unionists, Scottish Nationalists, Paid Cymru, Respect, the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern, Northern Ireland's SDLP and Sinn Fein. But nothing will go to the UK Independence Party and the Greens, who have elected MEPs in the European Parliament - and how do you write a law which exclude the BNP?

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WHEN this fuss has blown over, we need to look at the number of councils and public bodies people - including husbands and wives - can serve on. There's money galore slopping around if a person sits on both county and district councils.

Throw into the equation extra dosh for sacrificing a few hours each month to serve on police and fire authorities, and health and ambulance trusts, and the money keeps rolling in to some households.

There's a case to be made for salaried councillors, but they should then be precluded from serving on more than one authority and on any other public body.

Why should a councillor's only qualification for sitting on an NHS Trust board be party political patronage?

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