Party funding

Money(Credit: alf.melin, CC by SA 2.0)

Political parties in the UK are funded from a variety of sources including membership and affiliation fees, fund-raising and commercial activities, government grants and voluntary donations.  For all three main parties, donations are the single largest source of income, with a significant proportion of income coming from large donations comprising five, six and – and in some cases – seven figure sums.

The problems associated with funding political parties via ‘big donors’ – whether those donors are individuals, corporations, trade unions or other organisations – are increasingly clear. Accusations of impropriety are widespread – although they are rarely, if ever, proven. Such accusations centre on claims that at least some donations come with strings attached – principally as a means of either ‘buying’ honours for an individual or securing a change in policy for organised interests.

Political concern about these issue is highly apparent. The coalition has promised to reach ‘detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics’. In July 2010, the Committee on Standard on Public Life, announced that it is to carry out an inquiry into party funding, with the intention of reporting in late Spring 2011.

During 2010, we were commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to review the current state of party funding arrangements in the UK and outline options for reform. The resulting, Funding Political Parties in Great Britain: A Pathway to Reform, by Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone was published on 14 October 2010.

We also submitted written evidence based on our report to the Committee on Standards in Public Life in October 2010. This written evidence also provides further analysis of the role of large donations, which does not appear in the report. Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg appeared before the Committee at their first evidence session on 3 November 2010. A transcript of the session is available.

In addition, we have published supplementary analysis of large donations via the  British Politics and Policy at LSE blog – see below for details.

Additional information about the report and our subsequent work on party funding is also available on a companion site.

Further reading

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Party funding: a pathway to reformOurKingdom, 15 October 2010.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Party finding reform: why the cap may not fitLeft Foot Forward, 18 October 2010.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Party funding: yes, another review really is necessary, Liberal Democrat Voice, 20 October 2010.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Party funding: the long road to reformParliamentary Brief, 29 October 2010.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone, Party funding reforms are overdue in the UK, but should not be rushedBritish Politics and Policy at LSE, 26 November 2010.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, 224 large donations from less than 60 sources funded 2/5 of all spending by the top 3 parties across a decadeBritish Politics and Policy at LSE, 30 November 2010.

Stephen Crone and Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Just 50 ‘donor groups’ have supplied  over half of the Conservative Party’s declared donation income in the last decadeBritish Politics and Policy at LSE, 21 December 2010.