Should Labour go through all this grief for Â£72,970?
Three developments in the past 24 hours have convinced me that Brown is taking a mega-risk by seeking to stop Michael Ashcroft money going to support pre-election campaigning in Tory marginals while doing nothing about the general issue of political funding.
Firstly it opens up again the whole issue of “cash for honours” which was seized on by Lib Dem leadership hopeful, Chris Huhne, yesterday when he said that there was no doubt peerages were “sold” to Labour donors – and challenged ministers to sue him over it. Labour, he claimed, ran a virtual “supermarket in honours” and “organised” the award of peerages to millionaire party donors.
Secondly it draws attention to the abuse of the Â£10,000 allowance that MPs are allowed to spend on communications with constituents. ConHome and Ben Brogan’s Mail blog have featured a leaflet showing how cabinet minister, Ruth Kelly, is using the cash. No doubt other Labour leaflets will emerge to keep this story running.
Thirdly there’s a big analysis in the Times this morning showing that unions gave twice as much to support local Labour parties as Ashcroft did with the Tories.
The paper notes – “In Derby North, number 15 on the Tory target list, the Communication and Workersâ€™ Union gave Â£25,500 in 20 donations to the local Labour party, compared with Â£5,000 from Lord Ashcroft to the local Tory party. In Hastings and Rye, unions donated Â£16,465 to Labour, compared with Â£12,068 from Lord Ashcroftâ€™s company, Bearwood Corporate Services, for the Tories. In Clwyd West, unions gave a total of Â£7,500, compared with a Â£10,000 donation by Lord Ashcroftâ€™s organisation. Since the 2005 general election, trade unions and Lord Ashcroft have donated roughly similar totals, with the former making 48 donations to Labour seats, totalling Â£64,018, and the latter making 9 donations over the same period to Tory target seats, with a total of Â£72,970.”
On top of all of this is the general point which hasn’t been made yet. After a political period that was dominated by “cash for honours” why is the only item on political funding that’s likely to be in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech a single measure designed to penalise one party?
Without getting into the rights and wrongs of each issue this looks like poor politics. Any benefit that Labour might gain by curtailing the Ashcroft money could be more than wiped out by what the focus on funding could produce.
All this to stop what appears to be peanuts. As the Times notes the total that Ashcroft has given for this purpose since 2005 is a paltry Â£72,970. Eh? Could it be that the fear that Ashcroft has managed to engender for his operations is much much greater than the reality?