Parties Public 'Give Political of Democracy' Funds for Sake; ELECTORAL SYSTEM NEEDS TO CHANGE,SAYS PROFESSOR
Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON
PUBLIC funding for political parties and major changes to the electoral system are needed to rescue the future of Welsh democracy, one of the nation's leading experts warned yesterday.
Professor RichardWyn Jones of Cardiff University told a high-powered panel that public distrust of politicians was corroding the democratic process and the method used to send MPs to Westminster so overwhelmingly favoured Labour that parties were being weakened.
He also warned the Committee on Standards in Public Life chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly that the March 3 referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly was in danger of descending into "farce" and that the turnout is set to be "awful".
Sir Christopher is conducting a review of party funding arrangements and Prof Jones urged the committee to be "brave" and make the case for funding parties in the face of immediate opposition.
He said: "I hold to the deeply unfashionable view that parties are a public good, that they are very important for the democratic process and therefore the health of the political parties is actually something we should be trying to nurture, actively, positively... I think that having a range of parties that are in reasonable, rude health is actually a good that we should be seeking to encourage."
He continued: "I think the solution to these problems is to bite the bullet and be brave and go for what would be initially very unpopular which is state funding.
"My own view is that you need to actually treat the public as intelligent people and try and explain the logic to them, actually explain that parties matter, that parties are important, that we as citizens [need] parties to be in good health otherwise the democratic process is going to be in deep crisis."
He described public distrust of politicians as "very dangerous" and linked it to the belief that "donors don't give money to parties out of the goodness of their heart but that they are expecting some kind of payback."
But he added: "I'm afraid the public don't follow these thoughts through to their logical conclusion which would be state funding, in my own particular view."
Prof Jones, who is director of the Wales Governance Centre, said parties were being weakened by a system that at the last Westminster election gave Labour 26 of Wales' 40 seats on just 36.2% of the vote.
He said: "When you have seats that have been held by the same party for literally generations it's not surprising that has an impact on all parties operating in that constituency." Highlighting a further challenge for Welsh parties, he noted that while in many parts of Britain the "backbone of political parties is the local councillor" in Wales there is a strong tradition of independent councillors. …