The latest figures from the Electoral Commission on the loans and donations received by Britain's political parties provide fascinating reading. Sadly, reporting on them has been less enlightening.
Indeed, there is something rather disingenuous about the BBC’s claim that “the main political parties owe a total of £60m in loans”.
£58.7m of this is owed by just two parties, The Conservatives and Labour.
As Labour admits struggling to pay its loans, it’s claim that “political parties should live within their means” sounds hollow. Labour has been living well beyond its means for some time, with the 2005 general election a lesson in how to finance the present by borrowing from the future. While it may be an exaggeration to suggest that it would not have won the 2005 election without the tens of millions of pounds of debt it ran up, it is undoubtedly true that its majority would have been far more precarious had it not chosen to mortgage its future in an effort to win a third term.
The issue of loans raises serious questions about the credibility of the financial arrangements of political parties. The Conservatives appear not to have declared loans on the grounds that they were made “on commercial terms” despite those loans being at preferential rates, below bank lending rates. The Labour party’s “cash-for-honours” scandal continues to cast the shadow of sleaze over the Government. By comparison, the Liberal Democrat’s outstanding loans could be cleared by a £15 donation by each member; it is unlikely that Cowley Street will be on the market in the near future.
Lib Dems: £1.1m
SNP: £525, 393
Plaid Cymru: £352,000
Respect: £34, 878
Source: BBC Online
Meanwhile, donations to the major parties seem to eerily reflect the parliamentary landscape, with the Labour Party receiving slightly more than the Conservatives while the Lib Dems received approximately a fifth as much as Labour. On the other hand, a couple of the minor parties have received significant donations that belie both their small size and their supposedly-socialist roots. Both the Green Party and the Co-Operative Party have received large donations that should help them pursue their radical socialist agendas.
Lib Dems: £629,903
Co-operative Party: £142,036
Green Party: £138,396
Scottish Greens: £31,373
Source: BBC Online