Monday 5 August 2013

Do they not get it? We don't pay taxes to fund politics...


...and each time I hear someone suggesting that giving us politicians the ability to dip our fingers into the public purse to fund our political organisations - as a way of stopping corruption - I want to scream.

People don't get up every morning and go to work - often for not very much money - to pay taxes so political parties can run posh offices in Westminster. Nobody does this. If political parties want to run these offices but think that relying on millionaires or trades unions stinks of buying influence then they need to go out there and raise the money from ordinary people. From subscriptions, donations and fundraising events - just like they used to do before they decided that tapping up rich folk was easier (and meant that there were fewer of those pesky members to cause trouble for the leadership).

And what makes me even madder is the cavalier approach to public funds - 'oh, it's not very much' they say:

Nor are the sums large: Sir Christopher proposed a £10,000 donations cap and an increased state contribution of £23m a year over five years – the cost of a first-class stamp for every taxpayer. 

There are hundreds of better ways to spend £23million and, more to the point, there is a matter of principle involved here. It is not the purpose of government - the thing to which we pay our taxes- to fund the conduct of politics. Even more than with funding from the rich or from powerful institutions, the use of public funding for politics is wrong.

The problem political parties have is that nowadays only the ambitious and the anorak joins. The idea of joining a party (my party used to take any sum in return for a membership card - I recall collecting subs with my mum, 50p here, a pound there made for a large membership) to have your say and enjoy a bit of socialising has long gone. Today's Parties have largely given up on members - too much trouble.

If we allow state funding there will be no point or purpose of membership unless you want to be a politician. Is this really what we want for our politics? Where political parties look first to the state to pay their bills rather than make their case - for funding as well as votes - to the public at large? And where even more of our politicians emerge from the shallow, self-serving nomenklatura that populates Westminster. More and more nice posh boys and girls without the first clue about life in the real world but who sound good and know the right people.


1 comment:

Steve Manthorp said...

I agree with the sentiment, Simon, and would love to think that we could return to an age of popular individual membership and small-scale donation.

Unfortunately, politics (particularly national politics) has lost connection with the public to the point where the majority of the electorate perceive politicians to be corrupt, self-serving and dancing to the tune of their bribers; and there is some degree of truth in that perception.

The danger in a membership and donation model is, as you identify, that large-scale donations or levied memberships are used to buy influence and to corrupt the democratic process.

If we don't nationalise political funding (and I share some of your concerns about it; for me, mainly because it would militate against the smaller and fringe parties, which I think need to be seen to be treated fairly (even the ones whose views I despise), then we would need to implement fair-handed limits to influence, both from would-be larger donors and levied memberships. But neither party, when in government, would ever implement such a broad policy; they will always try to use their position in office to perpetuate their power.

Binding independent review?