Voters should fund party politics

VOTERS may not welcome the prospect, but it is becoming increasingly likely that the only way to maintain a vibrant democracy in Britain is to fund political parties.

By Graham Dines

VOTERS may not welcome the prospect, but it is becoming increasingly likely that the only way to maintain a vibrant democracy in Britain is to fund political parties.

Sir Hayden Phillips in his interim report on how to bankroll the political system - given the declining number of party members and the deep suspicions of just how the parties raise their cash and what favours are offered in return - has put forward increased state funding for parties as one of four main options.

In the report, Sir Hayden - who was called in to carry out his review in the wake of the cash-for-honours allegations - makes no recommendation on whether state funding should be boosted or caps placed on donations to parties.


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But like it or not, we the public have to accept that parties must be allowed to raise funds in one way or another. Sir Hayden's report says parties are “of central importance to the quality of leadership, the prosperity and the reputation of our country', the former senior civil servant will say.

“As members of the public we cannot have it both ways. Party politics costs.

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“While parties can reduce the amount they spend, they will still need to get some money from somewhere, whether from donations or public funds, or a mixture (as now) of both. We cannot expect to have a vibrant, healthy democracy for nothing.”

The options which the Government and opposition parties will have to consider are:

1. Increased transparency about donations and greater control on spending;

2. A cap on donations;

3. Greater levels of public funding, whether through a general subsidy, a subsidy targeted at specific activities or an incentive scheme such as "matched funding'.

4. Maintaining the status quo, with minimal change to make the system work more effectively;

Sir Hayden said: “Despite recent controversies, politics in this country has historically, and in international terms, been remarkably free of corruption and abuse.

“The way parties are funded, and how that funding is regulated, can help to diminish cynicism and restore confidence if it can play a part in encouraging better engagement between parties and voters over time.”

Reacting to the report, Labour's chairman Hazel Blears said: “Our guiding principles in this process are to achieve a system of regulation that is fair to all, encourages a wider political discourse across the country and builds confidence in the political system and we will continue to work to achieve this.”

For the Tories, party chairman Francis Maude said: “It's clear that, if public funding for political parties is to increase, political parties must tackle the perception that donations can buy influence or favours. That's why we support a cap on donations. The ball is now in Labour's court.”

It's going to be a difficult way forward to sell to the electorate. Most don't want taxpayers giving politicians money - although the alternative is a return to the days when Labour relied almost entirely on trade union cash and the Tories were given money by big business.

If political parties are not funded, they could go to the wall. That would not be in the public interest. The only downside is that all parties have to be treated the same, probably on a proportional basis of votes cast, which means the far right could end up with state funding.

Politics is not cheap. General election campaigns cost £20m each for the two main parties. This may seem obscene, but in the United States a fight for just one senate seat can cost that amount.

Imagine the extra cost if the parties were forced to pay for political campaign broadcasts. Unlike the US, they are aired on television and radio free of charge. Campaign adverts in America eat up a lot of resources raised by the candidates.

Our democracy is cheap. The only way to make the political process transparent is for the taxpayers to cough up and for private, business, and trade union contributions to be capped.

CHAMPION TAG

TAG, a seven-year-old German Shepherd belonging to Carlisle's Labour MP Carlisle Eric Martlew, this week won a close parliamentary vote to be named Westminster Dog of the Year. After watching the furry candidates strut their stuff in the shadow of Big Ben, judges from the Dogs Trust and Kennel Club praised her as “a fantastic all-round animal.”

Second was George, a seven-year old black Labrador belonging to Labour's Hull North MP Diana Johnson while third was four-year-old greyhound Dainty, owned by Evening Standard political correspondent Jason Beattie.

The long-running competition prides itself on rating dogs based on their good deeds and behaviour rather than their looks, pedigree or political persuasion.

But watch out next year - Otto, a standard wire haired dachshund owned by yours truly will be entering the fray. As they say - no contest!

LIB DEM SAYS: BRING BACK EUROPE'S CONSTITUTION!

EUROPE'S controversial Constitution, which most people had believed was killed off by `no' votes in Holland and France, is to be given the kiss of life, thanks to the East of England's Liberal Democrat Euro MP Andrew Duff.

Mr Duff, an unashamed federalist, wants the document revisited and has issued his rallying cry to the EU's 25 member states in a pamphlet published by the influential think-tank Notre Europe.

Mr Duff asserts that completion of Europe's constitutional process is essential to enable the Union to meet the demands of the 21st Century and the “aspirations of a large majority of its citizens.”

He argues that without the constitution, Europe will lack internal cohesion and external strength, and the EU's development into a mature, post-national democracy will be halted.

Mr Duff says: “Everyone should now recognise that the constitutional treaty cannot come into force without serious revision. Two things must be avoided. Firstly, opening up the whole package for review, as some have suggested, would almost certainly result in something worse.

“Secondly, merely dissecting or reducing the text, as others have suggested, would be both legally impossible and politically improbable. Simplistic solutions will not work. “

“Plan B: how to rescue the European Constitution” by Andrew Duff can be downloaded from www.notre-europe.eu .

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