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Birmingham Post Comment: Questions of cash and conscience.

Politics is an expensive business. At the last election the two main political parties spent a combined pounds 70 million trying to woo voters.

For the Conservatives this worked out as pounds 171,000 for every seat it won.

To paraphrase the old saying, although money cannot guarantee electoral victory, it sure helps.

Little wonder, therefore, Labour is so cock-a-hoop about the pounds 6 million it has accrued in the last few weeks.

However, these substantial donations raise important, and unsettling, questions. Labour has not been entirely transparent about why it has decided to come clean about the latest gifts from Lord Sainsbury and the philanthropist Christopher Ondaatje. As with the case of Lord Hamlyn, it appears the party was only willing to divulge its good fortune because it had been rumbled by the media.

Although such incidents should cease when new regulations governing the disclosure of political donations come into force next month, it is worrying that Labour appeared intent on using the old regulations to keep three massive donations under wraps.

The same questions apply. If the donor wishes to remain anonymous it is natural to assume there is something to hide and if there is something to hide why are they making the donation in the first place?

The case of Bernie Ecclestone and the lingering doubts about Lord Ashcroft should have acted as wake-up call to the parties about the difficulties inherent in accepting major donations.

If political parties can only operate with substantial financial backing we will run the risk of excluding other democratic voices from politics. The present financial imbalance in favour of the Conservatives and Labour may not only be unfair but deeply damaging.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 5, 2001
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