There was so much going on this week that the long-awaited – and long delayed – report on the funding of political parties finally broke cover on Tuesday. The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly, has had a tough time trying to get any sense out of any of the three parties. In the end the committee produced recommendations that it believes they can all sign up to. They won’t of course, they don’t want anything to change and will do all they can to see that the status quo – or something as near as damn it to the status quo, remains.
Briefly, the committee recommended that there should be a limit on political donations of £10,000, and that trade union members would have to ‘opt-in’ to contribute to the Labour party rather than ‘opt-out’. He also recommended that state funding of political parties should be increased from £7 million to £23 million – approximately .50p per elector (We currently pay .68p each for the Royal family)
And the reaction? The Tories are unhappy because they don’t think they can manage with anything less than a £50,000 cap. The Labour party fear that that the ‘opt-in’ proposal will decimate their funding. The only happy party appears to be the LibDems who are supporting the recommendations – because they don’t affect them. Has anyone ever donated £10,000 to the LibDems?
As for MPs, as soon as the report was made public, members of all three parties were tripping over themselves to trash it. The focus of their ire? State funding. Why? Because it’s the emotive issue they can worry to death. Enough to generate a negative public reaction to state funding and allow them to consign Sir Christopher’s report to File 13. “This is not the time to ask the hard-pressed tax payer to pay for political parties”, was the almost unanimous cry from MPs. The thought of asking the electorate to stump up 50p a head to keep their representatives honest, is clearly a step too far. For them maybe, but not for us.
MPs’ rush to condemn the report also revealed something else: just how nervous they are of having their gravy train derailed. MPs are at the very heart of influence and favour trading which the current funding system encourages. It gives them their ‘power’. It also allows them to invest in, and bank, favours for personal use. (We should never forget that this is a political class who are past masters at protecting their own self-interest. These are the people who tried to backdate legislation to prevent the truth about their expenses scam being revealed. They become actively hostile when their ‘unique advantages’ come under threat.) They see an increase in state funding of political parties as the thin end of the wedge. Their reaction is a very telling one.
As Sir Christopher Kelly rightly points out, the public are keen to see money out of politics and for it to be free from the influence of wealthy donors in search of influence and personal favours, free of trade union funding and ‘donations’ from the city and other ‘vested interests’. But politicians don’t want change. They want things to stay exactly as they are. They’re up-tight and comfortable with the cosy corruption the current system affords.
As Sir Christopher pointed out at his press conference, it may well take another expenses type scandal to break before we ever get our politicians to mend their ways – which is not acceptable. British political funding needs fundamental reform. If that reform is not forthcoming soon, we run the risk of our politics becoming as dysfunctional as American politics. The root cause of that dysfunction? Money.
If we want honest politics and politicians that truly serve the interests of the people they represent above their own, we have to take the money out of politics.
Link to The Kelly Report