THE MEN MONEY; Democracy Will Be the Loser If Political Parties Fail to Drag Themselves into the Real World and Rely on the Taxpayer to Fund Them, Says Mark Wallace

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Wallace

We ought, by now, to be used to the wily ways of our politicians. What with the notoriety of the dark arts of spin, the Government advisers caught suggesting they could "bury bad news" on September 11 and Peter Mandelson's amazing ability to win new and influential jobs almost as fast as he gets sacked from them, the British public are quite savvy about political wheeling and dealing.

When new, high-profile Government initiatives are announced, people almost automatically scour the rest of the news to see which Minister has been caught doing something embarrassing that needed pushing off the front page.

It is all the more remarkable, then, that we didn't spot sooner the advantage the political parties would seek to gain from the cash for peerages investigation. When the allegations first surfaced, it was hard to see any way such a scandal could be anything but bad for the politicians. To make that assumption was to seriously underestimate the level of cunning in the corridors of power.

Sir Hayden Phillips, who chairs the review, is reported to favour a new system which will award up to pounds 22 million a year of taxpayers' money to those political parties holding seats at Westminster, Brussels, Holyrood, Cardiff or Stormont. That's right; out of a scandal which, if proven, threatened to be a damning indictment of the political class, they hope to make a bonanza payday at our expense.

Even if you disregard the cheek of the idea, the proposal raises many concerns.

For a start, why should parties be propped up by people's taxes at all? If you run a business, you have to make a product that people want to buy. If no-one wants to buy it, you must improve your product or go bust. That is real life.

It is essential that the same real world rules apply to those who want to run our country. We saw in so many of the old nationalised industries the impact of guaranteed subsidies - if money flows in regardless of performance, then modernisation, competitive improvement and the customer's needs drop down the agenda.

The funding problem the political industry is suffering is essentially self-inflicted. They have grown uncompetitive, uninspiring and increasingly distant from the public's concerns. A bail-out from the public purse will simply hide the problem, at vast expense.

It is essential to our democracy that the parties have to seek their funding from voluntary donations from the public. If they have to persuade ordinary people to give money, they have to come up with popular, inspiring ideas. Sir Hayden Phillips' plan would let them avoid facing up to the simple fact that people are not buying into what is currently on offer. …