Politics Magazine

Politics Should Not Be For Sale

Posted on the 31 January 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

Party funding is a topic which resurfaces every couple of years after a “cash for votes/questions/honours” (delete as applicable) scandal surfaces. It seems that few democracies are immune from the problem that a large number of millionaires and businesses (especially in the US) think they can- and yes, we do permit it- buy our political parties and elected representatives. The problem is moderately less acute in Britain, as we have caps in place on campaign spending, and a complete ban on political advertising.

Nevertheless, it would be naive of us to think that multimillion pound donations can be made to parties without it giving them an unhealthy level of influence. Most of the time it works, as with the National Rifle Association ensuring the Republicans do nothing to protect citizens from deregulated gun ownership. Occasionally it won’t, as with Lord Sainsbury’s threat to withdraw his £1,000,000 a year funding from Labour if the blairite David Miliband did not win the leadership election of 2010. He stood by his word. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Such cases are the exception, though. In realty, a seven figure donation is often enough to shift a policy in one’s favour, provided it doesn’t contradict the bites party leadership. And this is completely at odds with the principle of representative democracy.

Firstly, the absurd situation by which a presidential campaign had several billion dollars spent on it must be corrected. With elections creating, as they currently do, a race to spend the most on TV advertising, it’s no wonder Democrats and Republicans require massive donations that detach them from their grassroots. UK-style campaign spending limits should be the norm worldwide.

Something the UK has failed to do so far is to impose a low ceiling on individual donations that can be made in a year- the suggested rate is £10,000-£50,000 ($7,000-$35,000). In order to compensate for this, state funding on a cash-per-vote basis should be offered. The idea is simple: political parties would receive an annual payment (50p is the suggested rate) for every vote their candidates received at the last General Election, or its equivalent.

The suggestion is highly controversial: why should our tax money be spent on political activity? The response is that 50p per head is a small price to pay for the enhancement of our democracy. That is something with a much higher value than a Mars bar.

The impact of a donation cap souls would alter the Labour Party’s relationship with affiliated trade unions. This is true of the  Labour in the UK and its sister partys in other countries, such as Labor in New Zealand. The unions provide as much as 80% of funds through a combination of one-off donations and membership fees from workers joining the party. It seems obvious that membership fees would be exempt from the cap- a party member pays their subscription as an individual. But the direct donations would be a lot smaller. So yes, Labour would place more emphasis on union members, not union leaders. But, if anything, this might provide a useful opportunity for the party to renew its commitment to supporting the workers who it was set up to defend.

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