Hello! Over here…I’m in the long grass….just having a poke around to see what I can find. What’s this? ‘Political Party Funding’? Well there’s a surprise! And what’s this attached to it? A note from Sir Christopher Kelly, “Do something before this one blows up in your face”. Good advice, Sir Christopher, but I don’t think anyone’s paying much attention…an accident waiting to happen? Sure is.
After months of prevarication and delay, Sir Christopher Kelly, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, was finally able to produce his report, ‘Political Party Funding,’ in November last year. How was it received? After a few good words from the Deputy Prime Minister, everybody dashed off on their Christmas hols, and nothing has been said or done about the report since.
In a nutshell, the Kelly report recommended that donations to political parties should be limited to £10,000 and that the state should increase its funding of political parties to make up the shortfall. Kelly recommended a level equivalent to 50p per elector, per year.
Mr Clegg, just before he booted the report into the long grass, ventured to suggest that the electorate would consider 50p a price not worth paying for ‘clean’ politics. Times were far too tough. But not tough enough for the coalition to spend £125 million on an election for police commissioners that nobody wants and hardly anybody will vote for. No, this was a report no politician or political party wanted, so into the long grass it was kicked.
Christopher Kelly’s view is that an increase in state funding “Is the only reliable way of making it possible to remove the current corruptible big donor culture which is so undermining of public trust in politics”. He’s right and Mr Clegg is wrong. The electorate are more than happy to pay the equivalent of a first class stamp to put an end to the buying of influence by large donors.
But the real nub of the problem is that the political class don’t want change. Why? Because influence in their world (and their world is a very different one to the one you and I inhabit) is currency. It’s what makes their world go round, gives them power – and it’s a two way street.
Actually, the political class are actively hostile to any reform. Over many years they have become a class apart, fiercely guarding their economic base, their privileges and a unique ‘club’ which allows them to maximise self-advancement and personal advantage.
Because of this and the fact that the system allows wealthy donors to call the tune regardless of the needs or opinions of the electorate, democratic politics no longer does the job the electorate expect it to do. And as recent events involving the Murdoch press have shown, the political class have further sought to undermine the traditional institutions of state, and the traditional methods of representative democracy, by governing through the press and broadcast media.
The Kelly reforms are important not only because they would remove the big donor culture which is undermining democratic politics, but because the reforms would force politicians to reengage with the electorate and for true democratic politics to become a part of British political life once more. Now there’s a novel concept!
Politicians need to grasp the nettle. The consequences of not doing so may be greater than they imagine.