Party funding: the backbench rebellion that never was

People have been talking about the 130-plus Labour MPs who’ve signed a motion opposing the part-privatisation of Royal Mail as a great rebellion.  But the Government narrowly avoided just as big a rebellion in the Commons last night – which nobody in The Media noticed.

139 Labour MPs, plus 68 opposition MPs,  had backed an amendment tabled by Labour MP Gordon Prentice to Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s political parties and elections bill (as reported by David Hencke in The Guardian here). When this bill was first announced, Labour backbenchers hoped it would do something about the so-called “Ashcroft millions” channeled into target seats by Tory donor Lord (Michael) Ashcroft. But  there’s nothing in the bill that deals with tax exiles of UK nationality who fund parties. Nor is there much to stop large amounts of cash being funnelled into a constituency after the bill got watered down. Ashcroft may or may not be a tax exile (he won’t say). Lord Laidlaw (who says he won’t fund the Tories any more) certainly is. Prentice’s amendment was meant to fix that by banning ‘non-doms’ from making donations.

What happened? As often mysteriously happens with amendments the Government doesn’t like, MPs ran out of time. Prentice doesn’t think it’s mysterious, though. “We had a nice filibuster from Jack Straw, who spoke for 20 minutes about the Hayden Philips review [of party funding],” he said to me today.

The would-be rebels included Peter Hain, Denis MacShane and Parliamentary Labour Party chair Tony Lloyd – none exactly serial rebels. In fact, it was Lloyd’s own PLP secretariat who sent out a brefing note to Labour MPs telling them they should vote against. Vince Cable and most Lib Dems were on board, but no Tories.

The Government thinks Prentice’s amendments were unworkable. He disagrees, but he also asks why the Government hasn’t tried to tackle the problem itself. Meanwhile, the non-doms can rest easy.

Suggestions that this had anything to do with Prentice telling David Hencke (above) that Jack Straw’s behaviour was “surreal” are clearly wide of the mark.

P.S. Wealthy donors are not limited to the Tories. Lakshmi Mittal is perhaps the most famous (or infamous) Labour donor – and non-dom.


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