Friday, October 28, 2005
Lend us a quid till the end of the week
The controversy surrounding millionaire Michael Brown's donation of £2.4 million to the Liberal Democrats won't go away.
The first signs of trouble appeared in May when the donor's name first became public. The story suggesting a breach of election law broke in the Times during the Liberal Democrats' autumn conference (see the original reports on 23rd, 23rd again and 24th September). The party was subsequently let off the hook by the Electoral Commission.
This week, however, there are a couple of new twists to the story. Beginners unaware of the full sordid details may care to peruse this Thursday's and Friday's copious press coverage:
- The Times here, here, here, here, here, here - and a bizarre letter from the donor in Friday's edition here.
- The Scotsman here.
Party officials have repeatedly pointed out that the party acted in good faith and with due diligence. So far, the Electoral Commission has accepted their word. But I hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost.
In recent years, the Liberal Democrats have been shrouding many of their financial matters in secrecy, so that even the party's Federal Executive has been kept in the dark. Separate bodies have been set up to channel business donations, and the small number of party officers privy to these affairs have reacted angrily whenever any member of the Federal Executive has attempted to probe what has been going on.
With secrecy goes a lack of accountability, and one can't help thinking that the party might never have got into this embarrassing mess if everything had been above board in the first place.
There is also the little matter of hypocrisy. The party has a policy on the funding of political parties, which amongst other things calls for a cap on individual donations of a quarter of a million pounds. Now £2.4 million is not to be sneezed at, but isn't this a case of "do as I say, not as I do"?
In any case, the value of this large donation was diminished somewhat by the fact that much of it was blown on a series of national press adverts, which did little to aid the party's chances during the general election.
The Liberal Democrats are supposed to believe in open government, transparency and accountability. Isn't it time the party practiced what it preached?
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