Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another one has come back

In 2007 I wrote about Sir Hayden Phillips's report on how political parties should be funded. Sir Hayden was using the argument of voters being worried about lack of transparency in funding of political parties and spending as well as the fact that the self-same parties were losing members and money to propose that there should be some complicated formula through which they would receive state funding.
One of the comments Sir Hayden makes repeatedly throughout his report is that all parties are losing members, votes, money from subs, and it is this that causes the hyperinflation of donations and spending. But might there not be a different correlation? The more the parties spend needlessly, the less anyone wants to have anything to do with them. In which case, the voters are not being bought. Far from it.

Sir Hayden suggests various caps on donations but recognizes that the Labour Party might find this difficult to introduce immediately because of its historical links with the trade unions. Also, at the moment it is experiencing greater difficulties in raising money than the Conservatives and this might affect the responses of both parties.

The same applies to a proposed cap on spending and, indeed, its control. Once again, it strikes me that if political parties foolishly spend, spend, spend their way into bankruptcy, well, so be it. They will not do it twice.
While a mature democracy cannot survive without parties (the alternative, as I said then, is a situation like the one in Russia) there is no reason why the parties that exist now should go on existing in perpetuity.
Sir Hayden comes up with a complicated formula of how parties should receive state funding according to the number of votes cast for them in elections, that being the surest way of showing how much support they can garner. As it happens, he is wrong. Support for parties is shown in votes, in membership, in voluntary activity and in the money they can raise. If they cannot get any of that, they had better start thinking of doing something else with their time.

What this report will achieve, if put into legislation, is a freeze on any political change or development, the very opposite of what it intends. A stronger democracy does not need "sustainable" funding of political parties but a true marketplace for them. Let the people decide and not through tax money being parcelled out by the Treasury.
And while we are at it, let us get rid of the underhand funding parties are already receiving from the state.

While it is not unreasonable to spend taxpayers' money on the smooth running of elections, there is no rational argument for such things as the Policy Development Grant or "Short Money".

Time has gone by and we have a different lot in Downing Street and on the Treasury Benches in the Commons. Yet what do we find? The Committee on Standards in Public Life has come up with a very similar proposal.
In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron setting out the proposed changes, committee chair Christopher Kelly said it had ''come to the conclusion that the only safe way to remove big money from party funding is to put a cap on donations, set at £10,000''.

He conceded that it was ''hard to imagine a more difficult climate'' in which to suggest the public should pay more towards political parties.

''We would not have made it if we thought there was a credible alternative. We do not believe there is.

''If the public want to take big money out of politics, as our research demonstrates they do, they also have to face up to the reality that some additional state funding will be necessary.''

The sum required should be ''kept in perspective'', he said, as it was ''little more than the current cost of a first class stamp'' for each voter per year.
With respect, it is not the question of how much taxpayers are going to be paying to keep the parties they like less and less in place (the sum is bound to go up, anyway) but the mere notion of subsidizing what ought to be private organizations, independent of the state, that is so noxious. Do these people really not see the problem? Luckily, the usual greed-soaked arguments are about to set in. In the meantime, we should all start campaigning to take state funding out of party politics altogether.


  1. Helen, I have been reading your blogs for a long time now and I don't believe that I have ever agreed with you more fully. There is not a facet of the state funding argument that springs to my mind that you have overlooked. My only concern is that most of th epeople Iknow are not aware that the parties already receive funding and thay are also not aware of these proposals. So, in the absence of a process like 'referism', I don't see how are we going to stop it.

  2. Thank you for those kind words. As it happens I am not a fan of endless plebiscites so referism is not for me, though I do know where the idea originates. Naturally, I know. Plebiscites are not known for spreading information but for propaganda and may the biggest win. So, I am afraid we are back to the need for information, information, information. I am doing my best, which one might say is not quite good enough. Other people need to do their best as well.

  3. Oh for goodness sake. What on earth happened there? Yes, I did post that response and no, it did not show my name. Blah!

  4. "No alternative", oh yes there is, let the parties sell their wares to the voters. Let us have a free market and we can dump those who do not have our Countries interests at heart. We have had bad and greedy governments before but for sheer greed this lot take the biscuit.

  5. That should of course read "have our Country's interests". Sorry poor digit control.

  6. I am never that sure "our Country's interests" are easy to define. What you and I might think they are may not go down terribly well with others. After all, many of those who advocated membership of the EEC did have the "Country's interests" at heart. Just as many a totalitarian system is based on that much-vaunted idealism. So, that is not, in itself much of a selling point. However, I do agree about letting the parties sell their wares to the voters, donors and supporters. If they can't, as I said before, then too bad. That dust heap of history beckons.