Saturday 1 December 2007

How to clean up politics

Gordon Brown has today appealed for cross-party support for his plans for a shake-up of the funding of political parties. At the end of a dismal week of media feeding frenzy, falling poll ratings and increasingly desperate media revelations - which Adrian McMenamin rightly puts in their proper context - I don't think Gordon goes far enough. We can't have any more half-hearted measures on party funding. It is time to limit donations to a relatively modest £5,000 rather than £50,000. It is time to stop the Tories from making a mockery of the current rules about constituency spending, and taking money from third party donors through the Midlands Industrial Council. It is time to put an end to the Liberal Democrats being bankrolled by £2.4m donations from the likes of Michael Brown that they still haven't returned: perhaps the sanctimonious Chris Huhne could let us know whether he plans to do so if he is elected leader. And it is time for Labour to stop relying on trade union millions. Instead, as Denis McShane says in an excellent piece for today's Telegraph, let's have some proper party funding from the state. And if we want to know how to pay for it, here are two ideas. First, slash the £26 million bureaucracy of the Electoral Commission (which can be done by focusing it on compliance monitoring alone). And second, ban political billboard advertising. Add in the millions that we already give the Opposition parties every year, and politics is cleaner at little extra cost to the taxpayer, and more affordable too.

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