For the past four years, I’ve spent much of my job working on party funding related issues. This has given me a rather apolitical outlook when it comes to funding scandals.
“Abrahamsgate” and “Wendygate” are no exceptions. Don’t get me wrong; the decision of Peter Watt, apparently his predeccessors and almost certainly a lot of others within the party to break the law in covering up the identity of a major party donor is a real scandal. With the Wendy Alexander debacle, a similar dismissive attitude about the law seems to have been in place. But no party has clean hands, least of all the Conservatives who continue to use unincorporated associations to legally protect the anonymity of their donors. It may be legal, but they are doing exactly the same thing on a daily basis, only less hamfistedly.
It is really hard to see how some of the smaller donations which are getting journalists so excited at the moment have that much significance. Â£950 here or Â£2,000 there is not as much of an issue as the fact that, for example, the Â£306,000 in donations that were reported late by the main parties in the last quarter alone. The fact is, none of the main party’s systems are that good and they could all do with being improved (admittedly, Labour’s seems to be in a bigger mess than either the Tories or Lib Dems).
But if the central party machine’s systems are not that perfect, what about – for example – the campaign teams of leadership candidates? Most of the scandals that are hitting the headlines at the moment concern the Labour Deputy Leadership and the Scottish Leadership contests (or non-contest in the latter case). I hope that Team Clegg and Team Huhne are making extra sure that all their donations are above board and that they are registering every single one of them; it could so easily happen to us.