Nigel Farage is going around telling anyone who’ll listen that there is an (presumably euro-philic) establishment conspiracy to shut down the
Electoral CommissionUK Independence Party, based on the ‘trivial’ fact that they have been in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds of illegal donations.
Far be it for me to gloat. Well, okay, I can’t resist. Because the truth of the matter is that all parties have been sweating cobs on this issue for months now. But for all that, none of the other parties have fallen foul of such an open-and-shut case as this one.
My own feeling on the Michael Brown case, which I said back when it was first raised to the Lib Dem Federal Executive’s attention, was that it would have been eminently avoidable if we had simply refused to accept the donation unless he gave the money as a personal donation and registered to vote in the UK. The fact that he refused to do so should have raised alarm bells (or at least bigger ones). But at the very least it is undeniable, and accepted by the Electoral Commission, that Cowley Street worked hard to ensure that it was legal. If it is eventually declared illegal it will be because the donation languished in a grey area that no-one can claim was obvious. The problem was, at the time and under pressure, there were too many unknown unknowns. So, while I might question the political decision to accept money off the twerp, I’ve never questioned that the party was scrupulous in how it dealt with the cash.
By contrast, the UKIP case suggests that they weren’t taking the most basic steps in confirming that major donations were, in fact, legal. UKIP, of all parties, would be the first to cry foul if a party accepted money from a foreign donor by some backdoor route or, worse, gross negligence. If Alan Bown was such an upstanding British citizen, how come he couldn’t even bring himself to vote for the very party he was bankrolling?
Anyway, here are a few quotes from the UKIP website that might serve to provide Mr Farrago a bit of perspective:
16 April 2006:
Financially the Conservative Party is a mess. Today less than six per cent of the Tory Partyâ€™s money comes from subscriptions and they therefore feel the need to bring in the high rollers. Legally donations cannot come from foreigners and have to be public, whereas loans can be anonymous and come from anyone.
However, the names of lenders were given to the Electoral Commission, and we put a public interest inquiry in to reveal those names. Worryingly for Dave it is looking like these loans were on such good rates the lack of interest payments could easily be defined as gifts in kind, numbering up to hundreds of thousands of pounds and thus donations. It was when he was
questioned about our request that he lost his cool. The dodge he and Blair have come up with to excuse their possibly illegal acts is to say, â€œwe cannot be trusted to raise cash legally ourselves, the only answer is that you, the taxpayer, will have to subsidise our activitiesâ€. This is wrong. The only benefit for party leaders is it gives them taxpayersâ€™ cash with which to reward cronies and buy silence from internal foes.
23 September 2005:
The Electoral Commission last night confirmed it was conducting an inquiry into whether donations from 5th Avenue Partners had complied with laws banning political parties from taking foreign money.
If they find against the Lib Dems the party will be forced to return the money, triggering a financial crisis.
Michael Brown, the owner of the company, told The Times yesterday that he felt â€œtotally let downâ€ by the party.
He said it had failed to make more than cursory checks before taking his companyâ€™s money. â€œIf the people who handled my donation were elected to run the economy, I would not be happy â€” it would be disastrous.â€
In correspondence with party chiefs, copies of which he has given to this newspaper, Mr Brown complains that his company has been subjected to media scrutiny and the donation to the possibility of legal challenge.
â€œAs a donor, I rely on the party to verify that the donation is proper. In the case of the donation made by my company, very little due diligence was undertaken,â€ he said.
Ner ner ner-ner ner!