Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Whitehall's campaign against democracy

The Mandarinate, Whitehall if you will, is very happy with the condition of Britain's political parties. Like Whitehall, they are central, exclusive, metropolitan bodies that look inwards and exist without any measure of either popular support or accountability. Fewer than 1% of the UK electorate are members of one of the big three parties, and this, too, suits Whitehall - the less the effect of grass-roots influence on the parties, the easier a cosy accommodation between the central State and the central parties may be reached. And the last thing Whitehall wants is political change, new parties gaining ground and the upsetting of this convenient State alliance.

Some of you may recall the utter contempt with which this blog greeted Hayden Phillips' meretricious recommendations on tax-funding of the parties, based on their electoral share in the previous election, thus enshrining and advantaging incumbency and acting as a permanent barrier to political change. I recall a howl of public outrage at the suggestion, and even an opinion poll that demonstrated overwhelming opposition to the proposal. This isn't, of course, the way Hayden Phillips remembers it;
"When I produced my report and negotiated with the parties, public funding wasn't a big bone of contention. I think there would be much more reluctance now even though I still believe it is the right solution. The political party system is essential to democracy. It is a perfectly reasonable thing to provide a stake in the way parties are is funded."
He tells the Guardian, proving that he's grown neither in wisdom nor honesty in the intervening years. In contrast the co-Chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Feldman is of the view that:
It is commonly argued that additional state funding for political parties is the solution to dealing with the loss of income resulting from a donations cap. However, it seems highly unlikely that the public would accept handing over significant sums of taxpayers’ money to political parties at a time when the Government is having to make tough decisions and cut public spending. In the aftermath of the expenses scandal, greater state funding of political parties simply risks further undermining the reputation of politics and politicians in the eyes of the voter.
But more importantly, there is a matter of principle here. Political parties should belong to the people, not to the state. General state funding would represent a significant constitutional shift and would risk turning our political parties into little more than public utilities. Furthermore, state funding based on past election results acts as a significant barrier to entry. New parties would find it all but impossible to spring up without access to donor or state funding. That would be significantly detrimental to the democratic process.
For Feldman to strike a position so diametrically opposed to Whitehall's strategy of establishing 'tamed' and institutionalised permanent State parties seems brave enough, but consider that the Conservatives alone are capable of surviving a donations cap without additional funding. 

It seems Chrisopher Kelly's committee's long overdue report and recommendations on tax funding of the parties will not see the light of day before the party conference season. Once it is released, Nick Clegg will lead cross-party talks. This is a bit like putting Bob Diamond in charge of printing banknotes; the LibDems have seen a flood of members leave since the coalition, their finances are parlous and Clegg has said openly before now that without taxpayer support for his party, it's doomed. And you can bet that  'cross party talks' will include only those parties already represented in Westminster - excluding UKIP and the nascent parties. So whatever Kelly recommends, Clegg will seek to make party capital of it - precisely the outcome wanted by Whitehall. 

I can't overstress the importance of the principles at stake here. The issue of Whitehall's establishment of State parties is the battleground over which we must fight to regain democracy in Britain. If the Mandarins win this one, we're irrevocably lost.  


SimonF said...

If we ever do get state funding of political parties, heaven forfend, does that mean we all become members of all parties? Wouldn't it be fun to organise mass attendance at, say, the Labour conference and vote in a new leader ever year.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all sure about the health of our democracy full stop. I don't see the much vaunted localism bill gaining ground, I don't see quangos cut, I don't see spending cut, I do see taxes rising and I do see living conditions worsing by the day as the living conditions of politicians improve by the day. I see the private sector groaning and dying under the continued rise and rise of the public sector middle and upper management and I see the collapse of this nation as we know it before too long.

Beam me up Scotty, I'm in the shit down here!

Coney Island

Nigel Sedgwick said...

I think track record should be a useful indicator. If the leaders of a political party cannot manage well the finances of that relatively small organisation, how well should we expect them to manage 40%+ of the nation's economy?

Best regards

Oldrightie said...

An excellent piece highlighting the real masters of our Country. No coincidence they see a Federal EU as a significant expansion of their secretive powers. We need a desperate clear out of they and our three party farce.

Anonymous said...

"The political party system is essential to democracy."

This is the bit with which I have a real problem. Are political parties essential to democracy? Are political parties essential? Who says that real democracy cannot function without political parties. I, for one, am beginning to think that party politics is completely unnecessary and the only people to benefit form part politics are the upper echelons of those parties.

Anonymous said...

I think Henry Crun is right.

Greg Tingey said...

Agreed ...but, um, er problem.

What happens when the political parties are funded exclusively by "Big business" - as both the Tories and Labour are ....
Is this good for real democracy?
Look at the USA.

At the same time, lest anyone misinterpret what I've said, I am agin state-funding.
Is there another way?

Wildgoose said...

My suggestion would be as follows:

First, ban ALL donations to political parties not made directly by individuals on the electoral roll, that is, no payments may be accepted from businesses, unions, or foreigners. Just named and recognised individual voters.

Second, make the election deposits for General Elections non-refundable BUT give every candidate standing in a General Election £1 for every vote they receive. That means it is the voters themselves who decide to use their votes in order to benefit the parties directly. You may wish to adjust the required deposit upwards but this will act to penalise smaller parties trying to get established.

Anonymous said...

Do these numpties not understand that fewer people are joining their wretched parties because they are totally disgusted with them? They're not willing to put their hands in their pockets anymore, so - of course - the answer the political fuckwits have come up with is FORCE the people to pay. Christ on a bike! How much more are we going to put up with?


outsider said...

You are right, this is a crucial symbolic issue. Members of Parliament voting for taxpayers to fund their parties would be a just cause for civil disobedience.

But do not us kid ourselves that this does not happen already. "Short Money" for Opposition parties, "Cranborne Money" (for Lords) and "Policy Development Grants" (at £2 million)already add up to almost £10 million a year by the back door.

Restrictions on party funding round the world are brought in for one party's advantage, compounded by the next government for its advantage, and always lead to corruption, deception and scandal. The cure is worse than the disease. Votes are rarely bought on any scale, as Goldsmith, Ashcroft etc have discovered.

The main political parties have failed in the market, mainly because, for a generation, there has been no point in an ordinary person being a member of a party unless they want some public office, which is fine but a minority interest. They do not represent class interests or, in key areas, most members' views.
If they are required to survive as a front for mandarin rule, abolish all funding rules except for transparency and raise the anonymous donations limit to £10,000. We should campaign to abolish Policy Development Grants and halve Short money (after the next General Election so it is not in any one party's interest today).

Those who believe that today's political parties are vital to democracy should urge them to reform so radically that ordinary people would see some benefit from joining.

Anonymous said...

Great post R, I 'feel' your consternation.

Greg Tingey said...

Is this link:
If true?

Serious trouble ahed, if so!

Anonymous said...

Greg Tingey - I hope you're right, but it seems to me that they just keep on turning the thumbscrews and we just keep letting them. I'm beginning to think there is no point at which people are going to rise up - they'll just willingly be herded into slavery and subjugation.

I suppose the one great hope is that throughout history it's always been small groups that have changed the course. Let's bloody well hope so this time, hey.


TomTom said...

No SimonF it does not. They remain private clubs funded by taxpayers as in Germany where the SPD is the richest party owning printing presses, apartment blocks, a cruise liner etc. The FDP has a castle in Spain, and the CDU under Helmut KOhl picked up additional (undeclared) funding from Schreiber, an arms dealer in attache cases collected by Germany's current Finance Minister for transfer to secret SWiss accounts, and also slush from Mitterand's reptile fund inside Elf-Total in connection with the Leuna Refinery Scandal which finished off Kohl and gave his protegee Angela Merkel the top job