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The BBC's Polly Billington
"Some politicians have concluded that the taxpayer should fund political parties"
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Sunday, 7 January, 2001, 16:16 GMT
Blair 'proud' of Labour donors

Tony Blair has insisted there is no reason for Labour to be embarrassed about receiving large donations from wealthy businessmen.

In the past week it has been revealed that three individuals have given the party a total of 6m.

Tony Blair believes large private donations are acceptable
Blair: Labour should be proud of donations
But Mr Blair said he was "proud" Labour was attracting money from what he called disaffected former Tory supporters.

Speaking on the BBC's "Breakfast With Frost" programme he said: "I think we have got to get out of this notion that there is something wrong with contributing to political parties."

Critics rounded on Labour when it emerged that Robert Bourne - the man heading the consortium that is set to buy the Dome - had recently given the party 33,000.

 Click here to watch the full interview

Labour was also attacked earlier last week after attempting to keep private millionaire publisher Paul Hamlyn's donation of 2m.

The party was accused of breaking the spirit of a new law - coming into force next month - forcing those who donate more than 5,000 to political causes to be named.

Speaking about Mr Bourne's patronage, the prime minister said: "We weren't under any obligation to disclose his name but we did so."

Mr Blair told the BBC that he thought there was no public support for funding election campaigns from the public purse.

Public purse

In contrast, the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is in favour of state funding of parties, which he said would help restore public faith in the political process.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy favours state funding

He told BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend: "Well may Tony Blair say, `Everything is all right and I'm delighted that we've got three or four very, very successful people who are willing to give us megabucks'.

"That is not good for the political process - full stop. It is just going to turn people off.

"If people felt there was transparency about their politics, they might feel better about politics."

Union blasts 'tacky' funding

The GMB union has attacked what it sees as Labour's move away from its traditional roots.

It feels that Labour is generating an image of a party heavily dependent on a few wealthy donors for its election fighting fund.

GMB general secretary, John Edmonds, said the situation looked "a bit bad" and "a bit tacky".

"I'm not sure that GMB members are too comfortable with the idea of people paying 2 million into any sort of political party and maybe there should be some sort of cap on individual donations," he added.

Costly election

Mr Blair said the party tried to obtain funding from a variety of sources and that private funding was essential with Labour Party running costs totalling around 20 million pounds a year.

The issue of party funding is particularly important with the parties facing costly general election campaigns.

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See also:

06 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Dome bidder's gift to Labour
05 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Party donations under fire
04 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour discloses 4m donations
03 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour MP calls for funding re-think
03 Jan 01 | UK Politics
'Labour blameless' in donor saga
07 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Blair: Economy key to election
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