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
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
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.