Friday, 30 November 2007

30 November 2007

I wonder if I could seek your assistance. It’s a financial matter and will involve you in no risk or expense.

What I want to do is make a sizeable donation to the political party that I support. But I’m keen to remain anonymous, so what I’m proposing is simply this: if you could forward me your bank account details, I’ll transfer the sum to you, and then all you need to do is write out a cheque for the same amount and pop it in the post to the party of my choosing. That way, I remain out of the picture, but the party gets the cash.

Sorry? Not lawful? Ah, I had no idea. All right, then, how about this? Commercial loans don’t have to be declared, I gather, so perhaps I could just lend the money instead of donating it, and we can talk about repayment terms at a future date.

No? What do you mean, unwise? So if I simply want to give a political party let’s say £600,000, you’re saying there’s no way I can remain anonymous? How appalling …

There again, perhaps not so appalling. Perhaps it’d be a good idea amid all the Westminster hysteria of the past week to recall why the rules are there. Back in the bad old days, as you may recall, we had no way of knowing who was funding our political parties. We had no way of knowing if some people were trying to buy influence, or honours, or even both.

So transparency became the watch-word. If we know where the money comes from, we can make an informed judgment about whether someone is up to no good. That was the theory. But some of these rich people are funny, you know … for some reason, they’d much prefer to keep their political generosity to themselves. So, guess what, as soon as the new rules are introduced, they start looking for ways round them. Just as they do with tax legislation … but that’s another story.

As you may remember, the TV mini-celebrity Neil Hamilton used to be an MP, until it was alleged that he took secret payments from the owner of Harrods, Mohammad al-Fayed, in return for asking questions in the House of Commons (Hamilton has always denied the allegations, but he lost his seat in 1997 to former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell).

All the main parties have had funding problems over the past decade … but they can’t agree on what to do about it. If more transparency means less dosh, they clearly do have a problem – although I confess to some sympathy for the view of our listener in Scotland whose contribution to our listeners’ debate this week said: “Very simple: the parties should attract more members and fund themselves from their subscriptions.”

So do I think Labour are in melt-down? Well, they’ve had a dreadful week, coming hard on the heels of a few other dreadful weeks. But let’s remember our history. The Tories went into free fall immediately after Black Wednesday. That was 16 September 1992 – and they clung on for nearly five more years. So no, I don’t think Gordon Brown will be leaving Number 10 just yet. But yes, we do live in interesting times.

Oh, and just for the avoidance of any doubt, my opening remarks were a joke. J-O-K-E. Please do not send me your bank account details. I’m not very good at resisting temptation.

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