Hain affair shows need to get funding act sorted
Jan 26 2008 by Tomos Livingstone, Western Mail
THERE were no Kevin Keegan-style crowds waiting outside the Wales Office on Thursday evening, chanting “There’s only one Paul Murphy.”
Nevertheless, there are plenty of Welsh MPs pleased that he’s back in charge – no more of the “but I do support full law-making powers for the Assembly” protestations we used to get from Peter Hain.
Gordon Brown will also be pleased that there won’t be any more trouble coming from the direction of Gwydyr House – the last thing you’ll ever connect Paul Murphy to is a funding scandal.
Which brings us to the curious case of Mr Hain and the fly-by-night think tank. The Neath MP managed to significantly outspend his rivals for the deputy leadership of Labour, yet when the results were read out in June last year, he finished fifth.
Not only that, he managed to raise £103,000 to pay off the campaign debts, but didn’t – until two weeks ago – tell the Electoral Commission, as required by the law. Some of the money came from individuals but via the Progressive Policies Forum, a body that seems to exist for little other purpose.
Does all this amount to a breach in the law that requires the grand-sounding Specialist and Economic Crime Command of the Metropolitan Police to get involved? We’ll have to wait and see, although the failure of Mr Hain and his team to answer many of the questions arising from his novel funding arrangements suggests the detectives have plenty of work to be going on with.
Somewhat lost in all the interest in Mr Hain and his diamond-studded list of donors is one, far more important question – why are there so many funding scandals engulfing politicians of all parties?
The machinery set up in 2000 was intended to put an end to the murky business of paying for politics. Instead it’s made things worse, which is odd, as the rules for individuals are pretty clear – declare everything to the Electoral Commission and the Register of Members’ Interests and you can’t go far wrong.
Party funding is unfinished business, and if the Hain affair has one consequence it should be to force the parties back around the table to hammer out a better deal on reforming campaign finance.
Some other things need to change; the Electoral Commission has only two options when a case like Mr Hain’s wafts through the door – a slap on the wrist or a call to Scotland Yard. It needs some other means of administering a reprimand to scatter-brained but not corrupt MPs.
Who most needs reform, and quick? Gordon Brown, who is desperate to make good on his promise that things would change with Tony Blair gone. Perhaps an unwanted reshuffle will persuade him to call David Cameron and Nick Clegg and start talking money.