Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Bite the bullet on state funding for parties

I have long argued that greater state funding for political parties is the only way forward, and the events of the last 48 hours have strengthened my view. It is true that at least we now know how the parties are funded. The Hong Kong fundraisers are at least a thing of the past (and long forgotten by holier-than-thou veterans of those days). But all the parties have come unstuck as a result of their reliance on large donors. Of course, there's a good case for capping the amount parties can receive from a single donor - and doing so closer to £5000 than £50000; just as there's a case for capping constituency spending all year round. But this inevitably descends into party political knockabout, not least when trades unions or the Ashcroft largesse are being discussed. Which is why greater state funding must be the answer. The government should have bitten the bullet on all this years ago; Gordon Brown should certainly do so know.

And for the benefit of those who think the taxpayer shouldn't fund political parties, don't forget they already do, and on a much greater scale now than before 1997. In 2007/8, according to the Commons Research Library(pdf, see Table 1), the Conservatives are receiving £4.5 million and the Lib Dems £1.7m in so-called 'Short money'. It is now worth three times as much per seat as it was in 1997. Of course, the money is to 'assist in the carrying out of parliamentary business' - but it certainly buys plenty of researchers who assist in the development of Tory and Lib Dem policies.

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