This week the government announced final plans to slash public funding for opposition parties in Parliament.
According to the Independent, the formula for calculating how the money is given to parties with fewer than six MPs will be ‘reworked’ – in other words, their money will be disproportionately cut. It’s an incredibly backwards step.
UKIP received nearly four million votes last year, but ended up with only one MP. The Greens received over a million votes and likewise ended up with just one MP. Slashing their funding is an affront to those millions of voters who were not fairly represented.
Currently, Short money – allocated in large part on the basis of number of votes rather than just seats – partially compensates for our woefully disproportionate voting system. Making it less proportional is hugely regressive given that we are now a pluralistic, multi-party democracy, with a need for a strong and diverse opposition.
Polling for the Electoral Reform Society by BMG Research at the end of last year showed that 57% of the public think a publicly-funded political system would be fairer than the big-donor dominated one we have now. And this cut will do nothing to improve people's perceptions of politics being stitched-up by the big parties.
Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account, so this cut could be deeply damaging for accountability. Indeed, an OECD report recently released shows that Britain already has one of the lowest proportions of public funding for parties among developed countries, spending just a tenth of the European average.
The whole party funding system is a complete mess, and this measure risks making it worse. By reducing public money from the mix, this cut risks making parties even more reliant on big donors – with all the potential for corruption that entails.
Until we see a cap on donations and a lower spending limit, taking away public money from opposition parties will just make things worse.
Let’s hope the government think again and stand up for the millions whose voices were ignored last May.