LONDON // Talks will start today that could lead to the biggest shake-up Britain has seen in the funding of its political parties.
The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, will head the all-party discussions in the wake of a "cash for access" scandal that has ensnared Prime Minister David Cameron.
This week's talks represent the latest bid to agree on wholesale reform of political funding in Britain, where the three major parties raised more than £25 million (Dh91m) last year.
Although three major reports in little more than a decade have recommended a complete overhaul of the system, very little has changed. However, the impetus for a determined bid to find an agreement has arisen as a direct result of a scandal uncovered last week by the Sunday Times.
Journalists posing as wealthy, would-be donors secretly filmed a meeting with Conservative Party co-treasurer, Peter Cruddas, in which he suggested that a "Premier League" donation of up to £250,000 (Dh1.47m) would not only give them access over dinner at Downing Street to Mr Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, but would also give them the opportunity to influence government policy.
In the furore that followed, Mr Cruddas resigned, Mr Cameron had to publish a list of mega-rich donors he had entertained over private dinners, and Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, demanded a thorough, independent investigation into the scandal - something the Conservatives have so far rejected.
But the main outcome of the affair could be fundamental changes to the way politics in Britain is funded.
At present, the Conservatives get the bulk of their money - about £8.7 million of a £14.5 million total last year - from wealthy individuals, while Labour gets about 90 per cent of its cash - more than £10 million in 2011 - direct from trade unions.
The much smaller total of around £4 million received by the Liberal Democrats last year came in roughly equal parts from individuals, companies and trusts.
For decades, the system has been open to abuse, with the Conservatives being accused of pandering politically to their rich and powerful supporters while Labour has been condemned for kowtowing to the union bosses.
Mr Clegg, who is expected to make recommendations for change later this month, said that all political parties had been caught up in controversies over political donations. "The system doesn't work, it is often mired in controversy and we need to fix it and fix it fast," he said.