Clarke calls for party funds reform

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Published: Sunday 15th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Tory grandee Ken Clarke has urged his party to break its reliance on millionaires and embrace the need for more state funding of politics.

After a week of furious clashes between David Cameron and Ed Miliband over “dodgy donors”, the former chancellor said there needed to be agreement on a “more sensible and defensible” system.

The intervention, in an interview with the Observer, came as more Labour backers were dragged into the row over tax avoidance activities.

Mr Clarke, who stepped down from the Cabinet last summer, defended Mr Cameron’s attendance of a black and white ball in Mayfair last week to raise funds for the Conservatives.

But he said the time had come for the premier “to put on his tin hat” and brave short-term public anger to extend state funding of parties.

“I think the Conservative Party will be strengthened if it is less dependent on having to raise money from wealthy individuals. But there is no way any leader can avoid raising funds from large gatherings of that kind,” he said.

“What happens is that the Conservatives attack the Labour Party for being ever more dependent on rather unrepresentative left-wing trade union leaders, and the Labour Party spends all its time attacking the Conservative Party for being dependent on rather unrepresentative wealthy businessmen.

“In a way both criticisms are true. And the media sends both up.

“The solution is for the party leaders to get together, to agree, put on their tin hats and move to a more sensible and ultimately more defensible system.”

Urging the revival of cross-party talks on funding that have been stalled for two years, Mr Clarke said a donation cap should be introduced soon after the general election.

“It puts everything above allegations of conflict of interest if the parties are not beholden to individual people, individual interests, for large sums of money,” he said.

“You would have two or three days of ludicrous headlines of the kind we have at the moment and a year later it would all quiet down and it would seem like common sense. Those who deplore Ed Miliband for taking money from Unite, or deplore David Cameron for taking money from millionaires, should support the alternative.”

Mr Miliband seized on allegations about tax dodging activitities by clients at HSBC’s Swiss arm to brand Mr Cameron a “dodgy Prime Minister, surrounded by dodgy donors”.

The barbs drew a threat of legal action from Tory backer Lord Fink, which he later dropped saying that “everyone” engaged in some level of tax avoidance.

Mr Miliband yesterday promised a review of HM Revenue & Customs practices if he wins the general election, after it emerged that just one tax evasion prosecution was brought despite 1,100 British customers of the HSBC subsidiary being found to have engaged in dubious activities.

He also promised to keep speaking out on the issue even if it meant he came under attack from the rich and powerful.

Meanwhile, Lord Green – the former HSBC boss who later served as Mr Cameron’s trade minister – quit his role with industry body TheCityUK to avoid “damaging” its standing.

Published: Sunday 15th February 2015 by The News Editor

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