Saturday, April 01, 2006

More on the secret loans...

Over the last few days the Conservative Party has hurriedly repaid £5 million in loans in a desperate attempt to conceal the identity of the donors. Francis Maude, the Conservative Party Chairman, looking very uncomfortable on TV last night, conceded that some of the £5 million may have come from foreign sources (this is not illegal if the loans were on commercial terms, but it looks bad). Meanwhile, it transpires that Lord Ashcroft gave £250,000 to individual constituencies to enable the Conservatives to massively outspend their opponents in marginal seats: in Welwyn Hatfield the Conservatives outspent the Labour Party by £180,000 to £14,875 but this was not contrary to the limits on campaign expenditure because most of it was not spent during the campaign (from April 11 to May 5). Skipper - here:
- suggests that limits on expenditure between elections (rather than just during the campaign) might help to ensure “a level playing field”. Additional safeguards might include: a ban on foreign “loans” (as well as donations) and a requirement that all lenders (and not just donors) who contribute more than a few thousand pounds must be identified (and that the repayment terms of such loans must also be revealed). Even this would not remove the influence of money: in the United States, for example, money can be spent on “issue advocacy” by pressure groups not formally linked to any of the parties, but whose aims clearly suggest support for a particular candidate. This would be a little more difficult here because politics is more ideologically divided in the United States (over issues such as gun control, teaching creationism, abortion, and gay rights – issues which have a great deal less - or no - salience in UK elections). (Incidentally, I read in the Guardian (17/10/05) that Lord Ashcroft’s libel action against the Times was dropped after Rupert Murdoch “agreed to facilitate a front page clarification”. Why? Didn’t the denizen of Belize want his day in court? Didn’t he want damages – the Guardian doesn’t refer to any financial settlement?).


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