Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Ashcroft tax bombshell makes case for party funding

Today's news that William Hague misled Tony Blair about Lord Ashcroft's willingness to pay 'millions' in taxes is a further example of the effects of relying on large private donations to fund our political parties. I've also just been reading Peter Watt's Inside Out and the thing that comes out clearly there is the absurd extent to which the Labour Party had to rely on a small number of private donors - and its impact on one of our great political parties - as well as some equally preening trade union leaders for its survival over several years. Such funding is unhealthy for democracy, and a distraction from the proper business of politics. Given that the state already funds political parties to a substantial extent - £4.8 million a year to the Tories and £1.7 million to the LibDems - it is hardly a great leap to increase that funding. There are several options. First, ban large costly political posters. Second, restrict funding and spending to £15 million a year. Third, allow small donations of up to £500 a year for individuals, and match fund them to encourage such participation. And fourth, provide a basic allowance for all parties, including the governing party, to allow them to maintain a reasonable structure, with the level of funding dependent on their votes in the previous general election, with a minimum threshold for funding within each UK nation. The idea that it is better for politics to have the pantomime of Hague's Ashcroft porkies or 'cash for honours' than to bite the bullet of state funding is simply laughable.

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