ANOTHER week, another funding fuss in British politics. What seems crystal clear is that the rules and their interpretation are far from crystal clear. The cases of Peter Hain's 100'000 pounds and George Osborne's 500'000 pounds have different features but both appear to involve a prominent MP obtaining targeted funding from outside sources without revealing it in his parliamentary register of interests; in each case the money arrived indirectly - Mr Hain's via a “think tank” that obviously did not think enough about what it was doing, and Mr Osborne's via Conservative Central Office itself. The Conservatives say that they took advice from the House of Commons authorities and “understood it” to be that if the money was reported to the Electoral Commission that was sufficient. But, since Mr Osborne was always intended by the donors to be the beneficiary, why did he not want to register it himself? Mr Hain's case is more complex and Gordon Brown was wise yesterday to say that the decision on it should be left to the authorities directly involved, the Electoral Commission and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

However, even if they decide that Mr Hain was guilty of an oversight rather than a deliberate cover-up, Mr Brown will surely have to decide for himself whether a minister who cannot efficiently manage a mere 100'000 pounds should be left in charge of a department handling millions of pounds of taxpayers money.


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