INTEREST in the peerages-for-cash allegations and the related inquiry into questionable loans to the Conservative and Labour parties has subsided somewhat under the weight of more important issues including, of course, Mr Prescott's croquet habit. But party funding is a matter of considerable importance; all three of the leading parties have problems with it and if it is not solved equitably there will be a question mark over the survival of a vigorous democratic process in Britain. At the end of last week the Labour Party issued a consultative document about funding which dealt with the awkward question of its long-standing links with the trade union movement. The document described this link as being based on values, not simply finances, and we therefore totally reject any assertion by our political opponents that the affiliated link is one of the problems in party funding. The Conservatives might argue that its links with big business are also based on values but the importance of the point at this stage is to demonstrate how difficult it is going to be to get cross-party agreement on the conditions and limits for political donations. The greater the problem in creating a level playing-field for all parties (not just the big three) the more likely will be some form of direct or indirect state subsidy for all parties. The problem with this is that it may act as a disincentive to the traditional party member.
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