Monday, May 30 2016

Electoral Commission latest quarterly report on party funding

The Independent and the Daily Telegraph have both reported on the latest quarterly figures from the Electoral Commission on political party funding in the UK. The latest figures show that Labour still receives a significant proportion of its funding from trade unions, whilst the majority of Conservative Party funding comes from individual donors.

From the Independent:

“Ed Miliband remains more reliant on union backing than Gordon Brown was, despite the return of several wealthy backers.

“Labour's quarterly income dropped by £478,000 to just over £2.9m, as trade unions cut their funding in protest at Mr Miliband's failure to back strikes by public sector employees. Even so, Labour is heavily dependent on union backing. Yesterday's figures record 185 donations totalling £2,964,471.05 of which more than two-thirds – £2,071,814.94 – came from trade unions.

“Labour's biggest individual backer is the property tycoon, Andrew Rosenfeld, who gave over £152,000 in the three months to the end of June.

“When the Electoral Commission published similar quarterly figures last year, Labour faced the embarrassing revelation that it was down to its last two high-value donors, one of whom was the former Downing Street spin doctor Alastair Campbell. At least part of the reason was that mega-rich backers who were prepared to give generously to Labour during the Blair years were put off by Ed Miliband's brand of politics, which includes criticism of boardroom greed and bankers.

“The Conservative Party had 20 fewer big donations than Labour but they were worth more, totalling £3,785,579, about £300,000 down on the previous quarter. Donors included several wealthy men who have been David Cameron's guests at meals or parties at 10 Downing Street or Chequers, among them the financier Michael Farmer, who gave £512,450, to add to more than £3m he has given the Tories over the past six years, the Tory peer Stanley Fink, who gave £74,000; and Sir Anthony Bamford, who gave £60,000 via JCB Research.

“Labour says that Electoral Commission figures overstate its dependence on union funds, because the law requires parties to declare only donations over £7,500 to the party nationally or £1,500 to local parties. Labour receives hundreds of thousands of donations every year that are too small to be declared.

“The Liberal Democrats declared a total of £717,797, and the Green Party declared £180,060, of which £100,000 was a single donation from long-standing activist Heather Hunt. The British National Party received a £100,000 donation from a Mr Albert Stanmore.”

The Daily Telegraph adds details on disclosure from Number 10 on “who pays to spend time” with the Prime Minister, after the former co-treasurer for the party, Peter Cruddas, was filmed telling potential donors that they could influence policy at meetings with the Prime Minister. Guest lists at events show that Cameron has played host alongside other senior ministers to “property developers…oil tycoons…and City financiers,” according to the  paper.

The Government under both Labour and the Conservatives has been embroiled in various lobbying scandals in recent years. They include the controversy earlier this year over the former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox’s friend, Adam Werritty, posing as an ‘adviser’ and attending high level ministerial meetings as well as trips abroad flouting rules on security clearance. Investigations into Werritty’s financial backers drew links to Israel as well as private intelligence firms and many questions were raised over the interests that he appeared to be representing whilst ensconced in the then Defence Minister’s entourage.

The phone hacking scandal has also brought attention recently to relations between the media and politicians, in particular News International. The Government and political parties have come under intense pressure to be more transparent about their finances culminating this year in an announcement that the Government will introduce a register of lobbyists before 2015. It is only right and proper, given the nature and frequency of such scandals and the potential for damage to the quality of our democracy that the party financing and the ways in which parties go about securing donations, should come under greater scrutiny.

Details on the quarterly report on party funding are available to view here.

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