It’s a well-known rule of politics that if you sling enough mud you everyone gets so dirty you can’t tell who started it.
In his statement to the House of Commons on party funding this afternoon, an angry Francis Maude illustrated this to a fault. As I said earlier, it was a tactical decision by the prime minister to send a senior Conservative minister out to bat for him in Parliament on this, rather than showing up himself. And it was a tactical decision that will pay off, in the short term at least. Dennis Skinner had one of the best lines – he asked “why hasn’t the prime minister turned up to answer questions? Is it because there wasn’t enough money on offer?”
Maude’s statement contained no new information.He merely reiterated the coalition’s commitment to reforming party funding (he quoted from the coalition agreement) before devoting the bulk of his statement and subsequent answers to trying to implicate the Labour Party in the mess his party is already. While admitting that his party “needed to put their house in order”, he also said that Labour’s role was a “shameful one” and that while “they operated behind closed doors, we’ve let the sunlight in”. He raked over the ‘cash for honours’ scandal and threw accusations of unwarranted union influence around.
The House responded with a more aggressive and partisan debate than we’ve seen in quite a while. In an immediate sense, this was a victory for Maude and the Conservatives – it made the statement feel less like the government was on trial, and more like this was a cross-party crisis.
Longer-term, this tactic won’t help anyone. The partisan shouting recalls the accusations of politicians of all stripes being out of touch that were made during the expenses scandal.
Altogether, the statement and debate demonstrated quite how far away we are from actually reforming party funding.