Blair considers ban on pre-election ads by pressure groups

Pressure groups, trade unions and business organisations could be banned from launching campaigns in the run-up to general elections under Tony Blair’s plans to ensure a ’level playing field’ between the political parties.

Pressure groups, trade unions and business organisations could be

banned from launching campaigns in the run-up to general elections under

Tony Blair’s plans to ensure a ’level playing field’ between the

political parties.



The controversial move is to be considered by the committee on standards

in public life, chaired by Sir Patrick Neill, which will investigate

party funding. It has been accelerated after the row over Bernie

Ecclestone’s pounds 1 million donation to Labour and the Government’s

attempt to exempt Formula One from a ban on tobacco sponsorship.



Close aides of Blair favour a pounds 10 million campaign spending limit

by each party in the year before an election. They are anxious to make

the curbs watertight to prevent other organisations replacing spending

by the parties.



The proposed ban on advertising by unions, business and pressure groups

would last for less than a year and possibly cover only the period after

which the election date was announced.



’Unless other groups are restricted, the rules would be full of

loopholes and the parties would get round them,’ one Labour source said

this week.



He admitted the proposal would be controversial if, for example,

charities were affected, and said it would be difficult to stop pressure

groups switching money from ads to direct mail.



At this year’s election, Unison, the public service union, spent pounds

1.1 million on ads that encouraged a Labour vote, while Paul Sykes, a

Euro-sceptic businessman, spent pounds 827,000 and Entrepreneurs for a

Booming Britain pounds 868,000 on pro-Tory ads.



The Tories are expected to oppose Blair’s curbs, arguing they would

infringe the freedom of pressure groups to express their views.



The planned controls could limit the campaigning over the single

European currency, which will be a critical issue at the next election.

The Tories will oppose British membership in the next parliament while

Labour now favours entry in principle.



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