February 2008: Should state funding of political parties play a role in cleaning up how our politics is financed?

In my February 2008 consultation I asked:

Should state funding of political parities play a role in cleaning up how our politics is financed?

Over 150 people responded and the results were as follows:

  • 62% of those surveyed answered YES
  • 38% of those surveyed answered NO

Common arguments given in favour of state funding of political parties included:

  • State funding would reduce the ability of groups or individuals to “buy favour” with Members or the Government.
  • The “pence-per-vote” system would provide a fair and equitable basis for state funding.
  • The current system of party funding is unrepresentative and is in need of reform.

Many respondents also suggested a cap on individual donations, coupled with increased scrutiny and transparency as a further method by which to minimize the influence of wealthy individuals and groups. This, it was argued, could work alongside some form of state funding.

Some common arguments given against state funding of political parties included:

  • MPs/Parties already receive too much tax payers’ money.
  • Instead of state funding, there should be better scrutiny and harsher penalties for the abuse of the current system.
  • State funding on a “pence-per-vote” basis would serve to entrench the predominance of the biggest parties and crowd out the smaller parties.

Interestingly, a number of respondents also suggested that instead of state funding of political parties there should be a cap on donations and spending limits. This was a view also held by many who responded “yes” to the question and appears to be one which is quite widely held.

Overall, the consultation proved to be a good indicator of public opinion regarding this issue, with many thoughtful and considered arguments submitted for and against the proposition. While respondents clearly disagreed over a number of key issues, one theme that was common to many of the results was a general malaise with the present system and call for reform.

With regards to my own personal opinion, I have serious concerns about the influence of big donors, whether individual, corporate or trade unions on the democratic process. I also believe that we will need much tighter caps on political spending within and outside of election time, as I would hate to see us going the way of the American system where money is the most important factor in elections and candidates spend their time raising funds rather than listening to voters. Wholesale reform is needed of the MP expenses system, with much stricter auditing procedures and transparency.

As such, I believe that a cap on individual donations coupled with tight spending limits, should work alongside some form of limited state funding. It is important that this funding should neither entrench the dominance of the main parties nor crowd out smaller parties. For this reason I like the idea of voters choosing whether or not to allocate money to a party at the ballot box – and importantly for them to be able to allocate their share of state funding to a different party or candidate than the one they vote for, thus helping emerging new parties.

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