All 2 entries tagged Party Funding

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December 14, 2006

Phillips Review spells new phase in British politics

Setting out his latest thinking, Sir Hayden Phillips, who is writing a review of political party funding, says donations from Trade Unions should be capped at £50,000 per year.

He says:

“I see no reason why donations from trade unions should be exempt from the cap.”

And I have to agree with him.

While left-wing Labour MPs complain about the “historic link” between the Unions and the Labour Party, history should not be allowed to get in the way of a transparent political process. These same MPs would almost certainly be against uncapped funding of parties by big business, although their justifications for doing so are practically identical to those of the Unions.

Put simply, Phillips’ proposals would bankrupt the Labour Party if not balanced by another method of party financing. Which leads me to believing state funding for political parties is inevitable.

The status quo is simply not suitable for modern, media-driven politics. It is too easy for a Berlusconi or a Lord Sainsbury to drive their agenda by reaching into their wallet. It happens in all major parties, but is a fundamental obstacle to democracy.

But what the unionist Labour MPs don’t seem to realise is that you can’t cap donations from business without capping the unions as well. At heart, there is no difference between the two groups, except for their constituents. They both want what is best for their members.

Tony Blair is rumoured to support Phillips’ comments. I rather suspect this is because he too has realised state funding is the only way forward.

March 29, 2006

If not loans, then what?

Predictably, the loans for lordships scandal rumbles on… The Electoral Commission says party activities may have been illegal and the police are investigating the matter.

This messy affair highlights the need for a new system of party funding, almost certainly funded by the state. Many argue that the taxpayer won't be willing to fund this sort of thing, but I'd ask two questions:

1) why?
2) couldn't elections become cheaper as a result?

The first one is pretty simple. The exchequer spends small (i.e. less than £20m) on loads of things that we never hear about. I'm sure grasshoppers and genital warts have both received more than that in government funding over the years. And surely a healthy democracy, freed from the over-representation of 'rich people' is worth paying for?

Secondly, if expenditure on elections (and most likely, party's running costs too) comes from the public purse, isn't it far easier to put a cap on spending? For instance, do political parties really require thousands of billboards up and down the country, which serve only to make Mr Saatchi richer? They may not be perfect, but at least Party Political Broadcasts are cheap. Couldn't they be increased and expanded into other media?

Similarly, if public service broadcasters are given more explicit roles in promoting the agendas of the main parties, wouldn't that have a far greater effect? By telling the BBC and ITV that they have to host x amount of debate/analysis on the election issues (i.e. not the personalities), wouldn't the public gain more?

It's possible to see this loans for lordships fiasco as an opportunity, not just for reforming the House of Lords, but also as a way of reforming democracy in this country. It's a shame that we can't adopt a laissez-faire approach to participation, but isn't a bit of activism on this front a good thing?

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