Questions about Money That Just Will Not Go Away; Should the State Fund Our Political Parties? STEPHEN LAMBERT Examines the Arguments

The Journal (Newcastle, England), March 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Questions about Money That Just Will Not Go Away; Should the State Fund Our Political Parties? STEPHEN LAMBERT Examines the Arguments


Byline: STEPHEN LAMBERT

LAST month, Conservative MP, and former Cabinet Minister, Ken Clarke, reignited the debate over whether the state should fund our political parties, in light of the ongoing row over 'rich tax dodgers' and the role of hedge funds bankrolling the Tory Party.

Research conducted by the independent Electoral Commission early this year revealed that well-heeled speculators have donated PS21m to the Tory Party since 2010.

Last month the Commission released another set of figures indicating that the Conservative Party are on course to receive an extra PS30m from hedge funds by April this year, placing the party in a grossly advantaged position over its nearest rival, Labour.

Historically, the Conservative Party got a lot of its income from big business and the Labour Party from affiliated trades unions.

Since the 1990s there have been some modest changes. It's true that the Tories were reliant on business support (and still are) and personal donations, whilst Labour got the bulk of its money from the unions, party members and 20% from sympathetic large 'business donors' in 1997.

But declining membership of both major parties, alongside a sharp drop in trade union membership who pay the political levy, has forced them to adopt a more commercial approach to fundraising, especially in the last five years.

A number of minor reforms were produced in 1999, initiated by the Neill Report, in direct response to how much parties spend in general elections and how they are funded, partly as a result of financial scandals such as the Cash for Questions and the Ecclestone affair.

Neill recommended that big parties should limit their spending to PS20m per general election; put a stop to foreign donations and increase state funding for opposition parties such as the Lib Dems (before they joined the Coalition government).

Little has happened since, until Clarke inadvertently opened up the debate as to whether the state should step in, and increase funding for political parties, a debate that has remained dormant in the last decade.

Let's examine both sides of the argument. Those in favour of state funding argue that sleaze and scandals involving large amounts of cash being directed to the major parties is a key factor for the electorate's growing distrust of national politicians. State funding would 'clean up' politics as it does in Canada and Germany.

Likewise it would help to create a healthier democracy giving all parties a level playing field. …

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