THE inability of Britain's two main political parties to reach an agreement about appropriate levels of donations from supporters is disappointing and disruptive of attempts to establish sensible controls on expenditure during election periods.

Progress in these areas is glacially slow; the “cash for honours” inquiry into Labour donations got nowhere nor, apparently, have the rules about the eligibility of major donors.

Lord Ashcroft, a former Conservative treasurer and donor on a grand scale, undertook seven years ago to establish residence in the UK and to pay tax in order to regularise his status as one of the party principal supporters. However it is still not clear whether he has carried out this undertaking and his recent activity in funding Conservative candidates in marginal constituencies has once again focussed parliamentary and media interest in his role in the party.

Shortly before the Conservative party conference it became known that Lord Ashcroft's office space and staff at party headquarters were roughly double those of David Cameron even though his title is a modest “deputy chairman”.

Private political party funding in Britain is tiny compared to that in the United States but even so it would surely be preferable for state funding to be the main source for all qualified parties rather than wealthy individuals or trade unions. In politics no one gives money without expecting something in return; such influence may be beneficent in some cases but, overall, politics would be better without it.


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