Clegg resurrects party funding talks, appoints Laws as Lib Dem negotiator

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2012

Earlier this week The Guardian reported that Nick Clegg ‘is to revive all-party talks on party funding admitting that extra state funding is off the table, but insisting a wider deal is still possible’:

Clegg as deputy prime minister is responsible for constitutional affairs, and was not taking the initiative as Lib Dem leader. The aim would be to set out heads of agreement on a range of issues by Easter. This high-level agreement would cover individual and company donor limits, the treatment of union affiliates, spending caps at elections and the distribution of existing state funding between parties, currently estimated at £7m a year. The decision to rule out any state funding in the new round of discussions means any new package could not include much lower donations limits, since to impose such caps without any state funding would bankrupt the already hard-pressed political parties.

This snippet in today’s Independent reveals who Nick has entrusted to lead the negotiations for the Lib Dems:

Nick Clegg has asked David Laws to lead cross-party talks on party funding in the latest stage of the former cabinet minister’s political rehabilitation. Mr Clegg has written to David Cameron and Ed Miliband proposing talks on donations, unions and existing levels of state funding. He will demand Labour and the Tories name two negotiators by next week and has proposed Mr Laws, a key player in the coalition negotiations in 2010, and the new Lib Dem chief executive, Tim Gordon. “All political parties have had funding scandals before, and there will be more unless the system is cleaned up,” said a source close to the Deputy PM. A report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life was rejected by all three parties.

In reality, it’s hard to see anything but the tiniest incremental reforms coming forward because of the vested interests of the Tories and Labour: the Tories reliant on a few super-rich private individuals; Labour in hock to their trade union paymasters. Currently only the Lib Dems have nothing to lose from the negotiations, though of course we’ve not been without our own problems when a millionaire flashes his wallet.

But for now the blue-and-red politicians have freely admitted that this is an issue on which they simply cannot move forward. The only way to suck vested interests out of politics is to cap donations, limiting the scope of any one individual or organisation to influence policy. But to do that would level the electoral playing field. The last time that happened — the televised leaders’ debates in 2010 — the Tory/Labour duopoly got the fright of their lives. They’re not going to re-visit that nightmare voluntarily.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.