The funding of the political parties has been hitting the headlines once again. The Liberal Democrats are being investigated by the electoral commission for a another potentially illegal donation that allegedly bought a donor access to Nick Clegg. Labour are being called out on their hypocrisy for taking donations from a hedge fund manager. The Conservatives have been schmoozing with pornographers and passing around the begging bowl. It is all very grubby.
Every time a controversy about political funding arises the parties begin to sling mud at each other. As they do this, they are already knee deep in mud. By the end of the trade of slurs and accusations they are all rolling around in filth. No one comes out clean.
The unions have a huge influence over the Labour party. There is nothing wrong with this in principle because it is, after all, primarily their political movement. Controversy arises when they are caught out in dodgy recruitment and candidate selection processes, and only recently was public attention drawn to the secret tax on trade union members. The so-called ‘political levy’ has helped prop up Labour for years. This has been reformed and may yet lead to a heavy financial loss for the party.
The alternative to union funding is gathering piles of cash from millionaire donors as they did in the New Labour years. Tony Blair raked in greasy money from all kinds of sources. Such donations are not coming in as much these days because they are out of favour, not because they have moral qualms (as the hedge fund donation shows).
The Tory Party are mainly bankrolled with vast amounts of money from sources within the City of London. Even with the coffers bursting they still saw fit to throw a black and white ball for unspeakably rich guests. A party trying to cleanse itself of its image as a friend of the plutocrats, held out the donation tin for hedge fund managers, City tycoons, bankers, pornographers and captains of industry. There’s an election to win you know.
When the press begin to ask questions, and the public express their disgust, you’ll often hear politicians say that the only way of cleaning up the situation is through state funding. They despair at the fact that the public are no longer joining political parties in significant numbers and that even fewer donate money. This means they have to crawl to millionaire donors. Contrasting taxpayer funding with the grubby alternative might make it seem desirable, but it would be a huge mistake.
I am would be very curious to know the results of a survey asking the public if they are aware that they already fund political parties through taxation. I would bet on the majority being wholly ignorant of it, and none too happy about it. This funding comes in several forms. The so-called ‘short money’ subsidy to opposition parties has been paid since 1975. This “short money” isn’t so short. When the Liberal Democrats were in opposition they received £1,749,385 a year. The Tories raked in nearly £5 million. The Labour Party is receiving £6.5 million a year. Did they ask you nicely for the money? No, me neither.
This is a scandalous situation. The party that won the election is rolling in cash from millionaire donors while the party that lost is being funded by money taken forcibly from the taxpayer by HM Revenue & Customs. Most insultingly of all, the suggestion is often put forward that there is such a lack of enthusiasm amongst the public for the ailing political parties that they are somehow entitled to taxpayer funding. They fear that they may become so unpopular that they have to bailed out by levying a vast tax on us without popular consent. No, no, no.
I say, pull the plug on them. If they cannot survive without taxpayer life support, then let them die. If the need bailing out it is because they have lost popular support and it is because they speak for nobody and represent no one. It is because they have failed to modernise, innovate and utilise modern technology, in which case they should go the way of Woolworths and Blockbuster. It would make no sense to bail out a failing industry if it made an inferior product that nobody wanted to buy, the same logic applies.
There should be no state funding, of any kind, for any political party. If they need money they should have to ask for it, very nicely and humbly, and offer us something desirable in return. Perhaps then they may be relieved of their arrogance, their aloofness and their sense of entitlement. They will remember who their bosses are and they will fear us again, for we will hold the keys to the vault.
'Short money' must be phased out. As should the Communications Allowance that allows Members of Parliament to promote themselves at taxpayer expense. Do away with all the hidden funding we give them, such as the election broadcasts we pay for and even the free postage of election addressees. If we want transparent funding, get rid of all this stealth tax and legislate to make all donations public and open.
Rather than nationalising the parties we should fully privatise them. Public funding will prop them up even when they have lost support and failed as institutions. If they want to survive they should modernise and utilise the internet. In the US political donations have been transformed by the internet. Politicians crowd source millions from a huge amount of individual contributors usually donating relatively small amounts. Barack Obama famously raised vast funds this way in his presidential campaign. Rand Paul has been a tech savvy pioneer of this method of funding, raising millions by fully utilising the internet and innovative grassroots initiatives.
The same thing can be done in Britain, but this will not come about while they are still relying on the taxpayer. If they cannot raise the money through these techniques they will have to survive on less money, and consider what they are doing wrong. Any party that cannot survive without state funding deserves to fail.