The political class is locked into a Groundhog Day scenario with regard to proposals for the tax funding of political parties; a report is commissioned from members of the political class, the report recommends measures which are agreeable to the political class, but the government in power at the time realises such moves will be unacceptable to voters. Forward to the next cycle. Of course they try to disguise it by calling it 'Public funding' or 'State funding' but as the State has no funds except those raised from taxation or from borrowing - which is future taxation - what they mean is party funding from taxes.
The two most recent reports, from establishment insiders Hayden Phillips and Christopher Kelly, were shelved not on account of the funding cap measures they proposed but on account of the substitute tax funding proposed. And the reason why both proposals were so monstrously unacceptable is that both started from the same standpoint; that the the established, incumbent political parties should assume a more constitutional role by entrenched funding, which also acted to exclude incomers and new parties, and thereby produced a stable continuum for the existing political class at a time when party membership in the UK has fallen way below 1% of the voting population. To this extent both reports were inherently corrupt; they institutionalised advantage and incumbency in favour of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
What is more heinous, both reports completely disregarded the belief strongly held by a very substantial number of voters that these 'private' parties should receive no tax funding at all. They rode roughshod over the clear wishes of voters who want to vote but don't want their vote misused to fill the mouths of metropolitan politicians with tax gold.
Phillips and Kelly both also wilfully ignored a solution mooted by Helena Kennedy's Power Inquiry - that voters should have the choice, at polling time, to agree in their own name only a tax donation of say £3 a year to a party of their choice, or not, and if so not necessarily to the party for which they were voting. This would allow objectors to tax funding to withhold any tax subvention in their name (on the basis of their vote) and allow tactical voters to fund their party of true allegiance.
Kelly dismissed the requirement for an additional voting slip as 'too complex'. Compared I suppose to last May's elections in London when we went into the polling booths with three different papers, one a yard long. And managed to get them right. The real reason of course has more to do with the fears of the established parties that voters will choose not to fund them from tax, or choose to fund insurgent parties instead. Well, that's quite possible. It's called democracy.
The other problem with the Phillips and Kelly proposals is that both would throw a tsunami of cash at the central, metropolitan party Headquarters - the very bodies so alienated from constituency voters and local parties, the HQs responsible for the apparatchiks, blow-ins and family members of their own that have been so unwillingly imposed on constituencies. The schism in Labour between the Scots party and the English party is not healed, and why should it be? So why should not any tax funding be paid to local or regional parties in the first instance and leave it up to the local members to make a subvention for national initiatives to the national party?
This is the problem. For as long as tax-funding proposals are seen to favour the stale, old, central parties - the ones that voters have grown out-of - they will not be acceptable. For the stale, old, central parties to agree truly democratic tax funding proposals means risking their own existence. So no action. Groundhog Day.
The Electoral Reform Society are the latest body to give the dog a poke, with the publication today of 'Deal or No Deal - How to put an end to party funding scandals'. Except it avoids the solution. There is wide agreement that existing funding methods are corrupt and that funding caps are needed, and the ERS reinforces that. However, it neatly avoids any discussion of the details of any replacement funding system, and repeats the cardinal error of assuming that we need tax-funded parties on a scale equivalent to other Euro countries - this itself is worth a paper.
Watch this subject; the price of democratic freedom is always eternal vigilance.