Two more posts to finish this re-examination of the 2004 Power Inquiry, then back to real-time. Today, Party funding. Tomorrow, new forms of democracy.
I think sometime around 2010 - 2012 was the nadir for UK party memberships, the total number of members combined for the three largest parties having fallen below 1% of the UK electorate. Fewer than 450,000 members between them. With Labour dependent on Trade Union money, and the Conservatives dependent on wealthy donors, we looked as if we heading for a political duopoly of two central, Statist, metropolitan parties with money but no members. The Lib Dems were already in trouble, and paradoxically had depended on the state funding they got as an opposition party. From 2010, in coalition, they would actually be worse off, though party luminaries with their bottoms in government such as Vince Cable got a chauffeured Jag as a consolation prize.
From 2007, first under Hayden Phillips then under Christopher Kelly in 2011, the political establishment - the grey men who really run the central state - sought a way to nationalise the two traditional parties, to convert them from democratic concerns run by their members into quasi-constitutional organisations. They could see clouds on the horizon; for Labour, a grassroots groundswell out of tune with the corrupt fraternity of fat officials, elsewhere the rise of UKIP, signs of dissatisfaction and a potential populist uprising. Both Phillips and Kelly pushed the same deal; a cap on both Union donations and large private bungs, and in place of those a State subsidy of up to £3 per year per vote won in the previous GE, provided the party had at least 1 MP in the Commons. It was a clever way to institutionalise incumbency - only Labour, the Conservatives and the LibDems would be effectively funded, and they would be secured for ever as the semi-official Parties of State. It's the job of the grey men - a self-appointed task - to create what they see as political stability. And bugger democracy.
The Irony of course is that had the original Phillips / Kelly proposals gone through in time for the 2015 election, UKIP would have gained State funding of £12m a year - Douglas Carswell's defection in 2014 providing the single critical sitting MP to qualify. The final published version raised the bar to two sitting MPs.
However, things don't stand still in politics. The insurgency feared by the grey men is happening, Parliament is in turmoil and critically unstable, Labour has increased its membership to around 550,000 whilst the Conservatives and LibDems level-peg with about 120,000 each. The battleground has shifted to social media, the role of the printed press in kingmaking has become marginalised and circulations are crashing.
It is not a good time for the central State establishment to relaunch State funding for a third try.
I wrote to Kelly in support of Recommendation 20 from 'Power' in place of his own blatantly unbalanced suggestion. They rejected 'Power' on the grounds that having two forms / two votes in the polling booth would be too complex for most voters. This after the 2004 elections in which most voters in London had coped with three forms for five votes (first and second preference) for Mayoral, Assembly and Euro elections.
I still think Recommendation 20 is the best and fairest suggestion if there is to be any State funding; it allows those opposed to public funding to withhold their £3 a year, and for voters to vote for one party whilst granting money to another. It achieves in other words exactly the opposite of what the grey men want to achieve.
Recommendation 19: Donations from individuals to parties should be capped at £10,000, and organisational donations should be capped at £100 per member and subject to full democratic scrutiny within the organisation.
Recommendation 20: State funding to support local activity by political parties and independent candidates to be introduced based on allocation of individual voter vouchers. This would mean that at a general election a voter would be able to tick a box allocating a £3 donation per year from public funds to a party of his or her choice to be used by that party for local activity. It would be open to the voter to make the donation to a party other than the one they have just voted for.