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Monday, 7 January 2019

Reform and Renewal - party funding

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.


Stephen J said...

This being real hard cash we are talking about here, makes party funding the most corrupt area of the party system.

I well remember the saga over the betting shop owner from Margate whose fairly minor donation to UKIP when put into context with a contemporary contribution to the LibDums was a particular bugbear.

The first was picked on, the Labour and remain (it turns out) Electoral Commission, as being particularly insidious, because the gentleman concerned had moved from one area of Margate to another and not got around to registering his new address, whilst simultaneously the latter was being let off, both the party and the donor, who was on the run from the authorities... somewhere overseas, for a donation that was several times bigger, and it wasn't even his money.

Then of course those pesky Russians, Putin being the unseen hand behind the owner of an insurance company, whilst the biggest political donation in history (other than the routine diversion of union subs) emanates from a tax haven in Central America.


Starve all political parties of any donations, also don't allow them to hide as charities... They should face their customers... Potential donors should be getting something tangible for their money, they are customers, after all. If they don't get it, they should be refunded, just like with any other transaction, particularly if it is online.

With a bit of luck these parties with their EU style castle walls, will come tumbling down and they will have to survive as tendencies rather than manufacturers of a political product. If they were selling a product, they would be bankrupted by the same authorities that currently defend them.

Sackerson said...

Bring back treating: at least we'd get something tangible and worthwhile, once every five years.

jack ketch said...

They rejected 'Power' on the grounds that having two forms / two votes in the polling booth would be too complex for most voters.

And here, Boys and Girls, we have further proof, if further proof were needed, that the "average voter is an above average idiot" -2000 AD.

Dave_G said...

FUND Political Parties? Don't they already get a 'wage'? Their 'funding' is already used to LIE and DECEIVE the electorate - see any manifesto and compare them to results - so I see and paid funding as wholly unnecessary and an affront to society.

They don't need funding. They only need to enact their political policies as per their manifesto in order to 'survive' and should be held legally responsible for doing so.

If they do as they are mandated then they get paid. If they don't they MUST repay their funding AND lose their position.

Make it a LEGAL requirement to enact any manifesto policy within 12 months of taking office or throw them out and call a new election.

Manifesto's should have MANDATORY statements covering the major issues of running the country - laws, finance, defense, education etc.

The electorate will then be able to make measured and controlled choice of vote which is, after all, the whole point behind voting?

As we stand, voting means (and results in) NOTHING. Brexit seems to be the perfect example.

Arsenal Fan 36 said...

Yes, it's curious, to think that the Tories have now only about the same membership as the French Communist Party (whatever it is now called).

Raedwald said...

Gunners fan - Yep. The Conservative Party had over 3m members post-war; this came down to 1.4m in 1979, when Mrs Thatcher came to power. By 1997 it was down to 400,000 - a million members having left as a result of hyper-centralisation and loss of control. When I started this blog it was down to about 260,000 and thousands more have left since.

Anonymous said...

From my personal knowledge of a Conservative Constituency Association, I can tell you that large political donations don't come our way. Branches contribute (and not all do) a 'quota' from their fund-raising activities, usually in the hundreds and occasionally thousands. These activities include tea parties, quizzes, the inevitable raffles where the same bottle of cheap plonk and a book signed by an MP go round and round, lunches, etc. The Association hosts an annual grand dinner attended by 60 or 70 geriatric patrons. Sums are raised from donations at election time (the 'fighting fund'), but the Association struggles to support a single secretary.

The MP, of course, has a PA and expenses, but there are limits to how much interaction there may be.

At the centre, no doubt, there are huge donations rewarded with knighthoods and all the rest, but the campaigning for local government is supported on a shoestring.

Deliverers of pamphlets and newsletters give their time for free, and a small cadre of canvassers do what they can - also for free.

jack ketch said...

From my personal knowledge of a Conservative Constituency Association,-Anon

Interesting read, thank you. I had always assumed the local Trade Associations (of whatever ilk) donated heavily to the local Tory they seemed to be the same people, at least in this neck (arse?) of the Norfolk woods.

Budgie said...

My source in the local Conservative party says recently that it is a "meringue party" - solid looking on the outside but completely hollow within. My source in the local Labour party (a Muslim) intimates that the Muslims dominate and squabble amongst themselves on a religious faction and tribal basis.

We fielded about 30 leaflet deliverers during the Referendum of which one was a Tory (though another Tory joined us for the stalls). So that tends to confirm the meringue analogy. A clear majority of Labour agents at the last (2017) GE count were Pakistani/Bangladeshi in appearance.

As for the public funding of political parties in the UK there is already: Policy Development Grants to a total of £2 million each year; and "Short Money" amounting to over £7.7 million for Labour including money for seats (262), for every 200 votes, and for the opposition leader's office.

There is enough public money already; no more.

DeeDee99 said...

As Labour under Corbyn has demonstrated, the way to get people involved in politics and to join their party is to offer a policies a cohort of people want and make it possible for them to advance their cause within the party.

The Conservative Party is so stitched-up, it makes that impossible. Members are effectively powerless - so very few join. The Party won't devolve power to the membership the way Corbyn has, since they fear a cohort of real conservatives joining and stopping/reversing the transformation to a Blairite social democratic party which Cameron oversaw.

Hence, at the next General Election, the Tories' 120,000 members, many of whom are elderly and are not activists, will be facing 500,000 younger, fired-up Labour members. This is obviously far less important than it used to be since campaigning is moving online, so the problem for the "Status Quo Deep State Grey Suits" is how to level the playing field via state funding.

They won't want to give power to the people now, since we demonstrated so clearly in 2016 that we won't necessarily allocate it as they want.

Anonymous said...

Jack K,

Thank you for your comments. Centrally, no doubt, the COnservative are in as much thrall to the rich donors as Labour is to the Unions, but out in the field the reality is very different. Not a lot of people know this.