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Power grab: Civil servants are helping Nick Clegg force constitutional changes which will assure the Lib Dems blocking power (PA) 

Last month's report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life on party funding reform is only the latest example of the doleful influence of a pro-Clegg mandarin. It is no pleasure to have to write that the report is the most flawed study this important committee has produced since it was created in 1994. It bears the hallmark of its chairman, Sir Christopher Kelly, a former permanent secretary to the Department of Health, who was selected in 2007 to replace the usefully troublesome trade unionist Sir Alistair Graham.

Under the chairmanships of Lord Neill of Bladen, the Warden of All Souls College, Oxford, and Graham, the committee produced effective, empirically robust studies on party funding (1998) and problems of electoral administration (2007). The 1998 report formed the basis of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000. The quality of its work has declined precipitously since Graham was denied a second term as chairman and a former top civil servant took the helm.

From the start of its latest inquiry, Kelly adopted the nostrums of another civil servant, Sir Hayden Phillips, former Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department. I have remarked in evidence to a House of Commons select committee on the errors and failings of Sir Hayden's reports on party funding produced for Tony Blair in 2006 and 2007. 

In order to bolster the argument for his predetermined conclusion — more public funding for political parties — Phillips used misleading and incomplete statistics to demonstrate that there was an "arms race" in political spending between the two main parties. Having refused to investigate the various existing forms of public funding of political parties, he grossly understated the amount currently expended by the taxpayer as a means to justify more public funding.

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