Some people have more money than sense. Figures released yesterday by the Electoral Commission showed that Sir Paul Getty, the American–born philanthropist, gave the Conservative Party 5 million pounds during the run–up to this year's general election in Britain and Stuart Wheeler, the chairman of the spread–betting firm IG Index, gave 2.45 million pounds. In all, the Conservatives succeeeded in persuading donors to part with more than 12 million pounds in the three months before the election while Labour could raise only just over 5 million pounds– and the Liberal Democrats had to be satisfied with less than one million. It takes some understanding that even very rich people would have wanted to put their money behind William Hague's forlorn campaign. John Major, a former banker, showed appropriate caution by sending a cheque for a paltry 2'000 pounds. Not everyone put his money where his mouth was; the Yorkshire millionaire Paul Sykes, who said he would give the UK Independence Partyú8 million pounds, actually forked out 13'000 pounds! Not all those who contributed to Labour's coffers will be pleased with their investment.
As usual trade union contributions were important – but whether their members will think the money well spent on a party now dedicated to privatising the public services must be open to question. Labour says that unions contribute 30 per cent of its income with the balance coming from party members and a few rich benefactors. This is the first time that funding sources for fighting an election have been made known in this way and it augurs well for greater transparency in the future.

The Electoral Commission has said that it is already examining whether there should be a cap on individual donations of, say, 100'000 pounds and it is also ready to get to grips with the highly controversial issue of whether there should be state funding for election costs.

Ray Fleming

Self–inflicted suffering

The dictatorial and repressive regimes of Burma and Iraq may seem to have little in common beyond their contempt for world opinion. However, there is another similarity between them in that they have each succeeded in persuading some United Nations organisations that their people, especially their children, are suffering from malnutrition and sickness because of UN economic sanctions. Unicef, the World Health Organisation and the UN Development Programme have written to UN Secretary–General Kofi Annan expressing “deep concern” about the widespread childhood malnutrition and high levels of maternal deaths in Burma and proposing greater funding for humanitarian relief programmes to alleviate the suffering. Iraq has consistently encouraged similar pleas to end what it claims is hardship brought about by sanctions following the Gulf War. It is difficult to ignore such humanitarian calls. Yet in both cases many of those with first–hand knowledge of the circumstances believe that that the suffering is largely self–inflicted since the regimes in Baghdad and Rangoon have apparently plenty of money to spend on other priorities, for instance, the construction of lavish palaces and new weaponry. There must therefore be legitimate concern whether any new UN funding would be directed to those in real need. And, in any case, if Saddam Hussein were to agree to permit UN weapons inspectors to return and if the Burmese military rulers were to release from detention Aung San Suu Kyi who won the last election held in 1990, the UN sanctions applied against these two countries could quickly be lifted across the board and some, at least, of their peoples' suffering would be eased.