Thursday, 4 March 2010

Political Party Donations

Much fuss has been made of Lord Ashcroft's donations to the Conservative Party, especially in light of his recently declared taxation status as a 'non-dom'.

Lord Ashcroft has been making large contributions to the Conservatives whilst not being resident in the UK for tax purposes. This means that he has effectively only being paying UK tax on income arising in the UK, and paying tax elsewhere on the rest.

Why does this cause a problem? Well, should a person be entitled to make donations, particularly large ones, to a political party when they don't technically live in the country? Difficult question to answer.

I, personally, believe that citizenship should be the defining factor. If you are a citizen of the UK, you should be eligible to vote, and should be eligible to make political party donations. Where you're actually living is largely irrelevant in that respect. I don't actually have a problem with Lord Ashcroft's taxation status - as long as he pays UK tax on his UK income, that's fine. If he wants to live in another country for his own personal reasons, then that's his own business.

But there are a few other issues. Firstly, we're not talking about Mr. Ashcroft, but Lord Ashcroft. He is a legislator, and has a say in how the laws of this country are made. Secondly, there have been allegations that Lord Ashcroft has been instrumental in the development of Conservative policy, by virtue of his large donations. He has been noted to accompany William Hague on Shadow Foreign Secretary business.

The issue is not whether 'non-doms' should be allowed to make political party donations. As long as they are citizens of the United Kingdom, and are permitted to vote, they should be allowed. The real questions are:

  • Should someone who doesn't live in the UK be allowed to determine UK law?
  • How much should anybody be allowed to contribute to a political party?

These are different matters entirely. But given the longer list of 'non-doms' under the Labour whip in the House of Lords, and that the majority of their funding comes from a very narrow selection of donors (i.e. the unions, which also exercise a fair degree of control over the formation of policy), I suspect it will not be one that HM Government will be keen to address any time soon.

It is also quite interesting to note that the only major political party with a manifesto commitment to cap individuals' donations to political parties, and to establish that legislators should be fully resident in the UK, is the Conservatives...

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