On Thursday I wrote about a question posed by Henry Smith MP for Crawley. He asked if the Labour Party should declare corporate donations from AstraZeneca before debating the proposed takeover of the company by Pfizer in the House of Commons. The answer was no, that they don’t need to. However the following day the Independent newspaper revealed that the Conservative Party has been taking advantage of a loophole in the way in which they attract donations for their own activities. On Saturday I sent Henry a tweet to ask if he felt this was appropriate and he has so far chosen to ignore my question, sadly he is not alone to have done so.
The maximum that can be donated by any individual donor to a political party, before their name must be disclosed is set at £1,500 per year. However the loophole in question allows private members clubs to received donations of up to £7,500 from individuals on behalf of Political Parties before their names need to be disclosed. The club mentioned in the newspaper report is called United and Cecil and the article provides more information about its activities including the involvement of Cabinet Ministers in the process. The club organises regular events at the Carlton Club in Central London and has raised substantial sums of funds for the Party.
This revelation comes a few months after the Conservative Party dominated Government voted through the Lobbying Bill with its deeply unpopular part 2 that will deter charities and other organisations from conducting activities that could be later considered to be political campaigning. If any organisation is deemed to be acting in a manner that could been deemed to impact on the outcome of an election, within a year of the election it would be expected to register under similar rules and conditions that apply to political parties although we are still waiting for the final guidance on what restrictions this will place on charities. I wrote to Henry Smith several times to ask him to explain why he felt it was appropriate to include charities in this legislation. He was one of only a small number of Sussex MPs who chose to ignore all of my questions.
The need for Political Parties to fund their activities in an effective manner is clearly something that should concern all of us, not just those whose who are professional politicians like Henry Smith and his 649 colleagues. It is important that funding rules are open and fair, and that people or organisations such as AstraZeneca do not gain unreasonable advantage from their decisions to fund any particular party. It is also important that new entrants into the world of Politics do not need to get involved in grubby dining club deals to find a level playing field with the current parties. It is disappointing that Henry along with Brighton & Hove MPs Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherly have so far chosen to ignore my questions about United and Cecil that I posted on twitter this weekend. Perhaps the think that answering questions about funding arrangements is only for people and organisations unlike themselves?