The spinster nurse, the £500k and a stink over party funding
The misuse of nurse Joan Edwards's bequest is just part of the story as all three parties' dodgy donations are disclosed
THE TORIES and the Liberal Democrats this morning handed back the £520,000 they took from a spinster's will after the Daily Mail disclosed it was intended to go to the government of the day to use for good causes.
Both parties agreed to give up the money after Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, weighed in this morning, calling on both parties to do so "as quickly as possible" so that it could be used for "some good purpose".
Sir Alistair told Radio 4's Today progranmme: "She was a nurse. The obvious place for it to go to was the National Health Service. It's pretty strapped for cash at the moment."
The row broke out when figures for party donations in the second quarter of the year were released yesterday and the Daily Mail's sleuths did some digging into the bequest of wealthy former nurse Joan Edwards from Bristol who died last September, aged 90.
Under the terms of her will, she left the money to "whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit".
The executors of the will bizarrely interpreted that to mean that the money should go to the parties in government, not the government itself. The Tories and the Lib Dems gratefully divvied up the donation 80:20 – based on their share in Cabinet - with £420,000 going to the Conservatives and the rest to the Lib Dems.
Nextdoor neighbour Lucy Sanders said: "I would think she would have wanted the government to do something good with her money, something to do with looking after children like she did."
Understandably, Labour, who didn't get a share, were quick to condemn the Tories and the Lib Dems.
But the donation is just part of a far more serious stink over party funding this morning, after the parties revealed the extent of their donations in the period April-June.
Labour, not surprisingly, received two-thirds of its money from the unions – a total of £2.4m. The Unite union gave £772,195, GMB gave £485,830 and Unison £458,080. It enabled the chirpy Tory chairman Grant Shapps to crow once more that Ed Miliband is firmly in the pocket of ‘Red' Len McCluskey, the Unison boss.
"Despite Ed Miliband's promise of change, these independent figures prove his Labour Party is still dominated by the trade unions," said Shapps. "They choose the candidates, pick the leader and remain Labour's biggest donors - providing three-quarters of the party's money."
Except that there is a worse stench over the Tory donations of £3.1 million, most of which came from hedge fund managers and bankers.
The Guardian report that the official records released yesterday for all party donations show a company that builds wind farms donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Conservative party coffers after being awarded a £4.5 million Government grant from the Regional Growth Fund.
According to the paper, Offshore Group Newcastle (OGN) donated £139,655 to the Conservative Party in the year following the grant which helped it build a plant producing parts for wind turbines. One of its executives, Alexander Temerko, is reported to have donated more than £200,000 to the Tories in cash and auction prizes since February 2012.
A spokesman for the firm said: "The Regional Growth Fund grant is totally independent from any political activities."
State funding would end such stories. But would the voters stomach the idea? I don't think so.
Which raises another question: would Joan Edwards have left any money to the "government of the day" if there had been a chance it would be used for the state funding of the political parties? We're back to square one.