Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The cost of democracy

A diverse, transparent and unrestricted party political system with low barriers to entry and an equal playing field for all is an important precursor for real democracy. In order for parties to get their message and identity out, they need money. Either they all rely wholly on membership fees and voluntary donations - which, if unrestricted, will give the party that offers most to the oligopolistic multinational corporates a clear advantage over all the rest - or an element of tax funding is applied, and / or caps or restrictions on donations to prevent parliament being 'bought'. So far, I think, few would argue with the foregoing. 

Any tax funding must also recognise the right of those unwilling under any circumstances to contribute to political parties - 'not in my name'. Thus any tax subsidy must be individual, positive and confidential. There are only two ways of doing this;

1. A £1 - for - £1 tax-match for donations up to a maximum limit for individual donations

2. A separate funding ballot at general elections to 'vote' say £3 to the party of choice, or to 'vote' nothing at all to any of them, the recipient party not having to be the one for which an electoral vote is cast

Why both Hayden Phillips' and Christopher Kelly's proposals are corrupting and antidemocratic is because both refuse to recognise the second option; both want to restrict the pot to the 'big three', therefore establishing permanent incumbency and status as 'parties of State'. 

And while Miliband's acceptance that big voluntary donations from the unions must be capped along with other donations, he's still seeking to keep the individual levy intact. This really doesn't take the matter much further forward - and the chances of any proposals being agreed by the Big Three that are acceptable to the UK electorate emerging are slim. It's high time therefore that the politicians handed over the issue of party funding to we, the people, to decide; they simply can neither be trusted nor relied upon to come up with a solution to this themselves.


DeeDee99 said...

They'll be even more determined to restrict taxpayer-funded support to the Big 3 now that UKIP has overtaken the LibDems in the polls for the first time.

The overall poll - UKIP 9% to the LibDems 8% is well within the margin of error of course. But the 17% (a new high) in the 60+ demographic, which is the largest and also the most likely to vote, must be scaring the CONs shitless.

G. Tingey said...

And with party political membership even less common than owning a TV, it becomes even more obvious that it has already become, as Raedwald says, an oligarchy.
And all they need to do is to TRY to make that permanent and self-perpetuating.
Which is itself a garuantee of serious trouble, further down the future road.

Tarka the Rotter said...

Well, I am of the opinion that a party lives or dies on its individual membership fees : if a party has little support, it has little money and has to fold. As for donations, whether from corporations or unions or very rich individuals...all should be illegal. The less money these bastards have the better. Same goes with central and local government - starve the beast at source.

Woodsy42 said...

This all presumes that we actually want political parties - personally I don't want them.
I think we should vote for individuals to represent our communities. Of course they can allign themselves into groups if they wish, and would do so, but that's entirely at their wish and expense.
Once Westminster is elected the members should collectivly vote in a PM and cabinet.

Anonymous said...

Woodsy42 is absolutely right.


anon 2 said...

I agree with Woodsy-- and I suggest, further, that a no-party system would help eliminate the egregious 'whipped voting' system within Parliament.

Edward Spalton said...

Keep the parties' sticky fingers of taxpayers' money at all costs!

They are not part of the state. Let them look to their own members and supporters.

In Belgium where private subscriptions and donations to political parties are kept to very low levels and corruption is enormous, they depend on tax-funding. If a party from outside the "social partners" of the main parties becomes too successful, state funding is cut off on one pretext or another. With the Vlaams Blok, it only took an accusation of "racism" to do the trick and they had to re-form as the Vlaams Belang.

Not a penny! No! No! A thousand times no!

Ian R Thorpe said...

I'm totally against public funding as it would virtually rule out small parties.

Capped donations and no corporate money. Let them put stalls on car boot sales to raise cash. It's still biased because the big parties would get expensive junk from people trying to buy influence, but I would love to see Dave and George trying to sell second hand CDs and books on a blasted heath somewhere.

Edward Spalton said...

Ian, you are quite right.

Today's parties only need such large funds for national mass media manipulation. It costs a great deal to buy all the focus group research, wining and dining of media owners etc. The present inquiry into the press shows how close and corrupt the relationships have become - and that costs a great deal of money and favours to get the favourable mentions.

It wouldn't solve the problem of the BBC but it would go a long way to restoring balance.
If parties could not buy so much coverage nationally, they would be more dependent on their own activists and candidates at constituency level.

This would put more power into the hands of constituency associations in touch with local people. Lord Tebbit has remarked on the change in the Conservative party. As party Chairman, he could not dictate to constituencies but now, he says, they are mere sub offices of the central party. Labour was notorious for ensuring that everyone was "on message". Mr. Cameron, of his own decision, can now deselect any MP or candidate at will instantly. He did it once with a candidate called Howard Flyte who said, at a private dinner party, that public spending would have to be cut.
Someone leaked it to the press at a time when Cameron was promising to be the "heir to Blair" and to "share the proceeds of growth" with the public sector - so Flyte became an unperson, his political prospects destroyed.

The unspoken bargain with the candidates in the main parties is "Toe the line and our propaganda machine will get you your seat".

Funnily enough Enoch Powell fresaw all this in 1971 - but there isn't space here.

G. Tingey said...

I'm given to understand that poltical party membership is now rarer than not owning a TV, ie. 1% of the population ~= 600 000 people.
Given the wat we latter are harassed and persecuted, perhaps the latter should be as well, as a dangerous, seditious minority clique?