Friday, March 17, 2006
Is it Time for State Funding of Political Parties?
The row over Labour's finances and 'loans for lordships' rumbles on. I'm told the Sunday newspapers are crawling all over the issue. Sky News has just reported that £13,500,000 has been lent! Jesus. What on earth was that spent on? Surely Jack Dromey would have noticed that sum of money going through Labour accounts? I did an interview with Good Morning Scotland on the subject earlier, and my 'co-pundit' was former Labour advisor Scarlett McGwire. She intimated that state funding of political parties would be the only way to solve the problem of transparency in political funding. Patricia Hewitt on the Today programme blamed the media for insinuating that all political donations are sleazy and thus the public become brainwashed into thinking that all politicians and businesspeople are on the make, when the truth is that 99% of politicians are honest and most people who donate money expect nothing in return. Up to a point. I believe that we are reaching a point when we will have to decide on state funding. It is anathema to me to even consider it as I do not believe the State should be involving itself in political funding beyond what it already does in providing HM Opposition with so-called Short Money. However, we are getting to a point where no one in their right mind will consider giving money to political parties if they are automatically accused of some sort of 'honour buying'. Gone are the days when political parties could raise a high proportion of their income from a mass membership. So if they are denied the opportunity of raising funds from elsewhere we may have to bow to the inevitable. But if we do, it will not be a simple matter. How would such a system work? Would money be allocated by votes cast, number of MPs, should there be some mechanism to reward to recruitment of new members? Would state funding only be given to political parties with parliamentary representation? Would there be a vote hurdle which you would have to jump in order to be eligible for state funding? How high should that be? High enough to exclude the BNP, perhaps? This is a complete hornet's nest and I imagine it would be up to the Electoral Commission to come up with a proposal. Another excuse for this burgeoning quango to expand its huge staff and budget, no doubt. As you will have gathered, my heart tells me to oppose state funding, but my head tells me that we're getting to the point where it is going to be inevitable. If that's the case, Ken Clarke's Democracy Commission had better startb thinking about how the Conservative Party believes it should work.