Sunday, October 22, 2006

The True Cost Of Westminster Politicos

Your 'avin a larf, aintcha?

Many years ago, Tyler was taught politics by Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, and a very informative teacher he was. Today he is a world expert on political funding (eg see here), so his comments on the outrageous Hayden-Phillips endorsement of state funding for UK parties should be carefully noted.

As Michael reminds us, Hayden-Phillips used to head the Department for Constitutional Affairs, from where he drew most of the Enquiry's staffing - hardly balanced. And his so-called public consultation was a complete sham, mainly comprising a small number of manipulated focus groups:

"25 people representing a cross-section of the public would be presented with a set of charts and tables setting out the “facts”, and they would be invited to provide their opinions in the light of these “facts”.

The private rationale of the workshops (as revealed under the Freedom of Information Act) was that public views about the issue of party funding are “inconsistent and contradictory”.

The formula sounds a bit like a Chinese re-education session: “The possible future options for funding are prone to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In order for informed debate to occur a strong degree of information provision will need to be built into the process, allowing citizens to fully understand . . . possible future models . . . in order to achieve an in-depth and considered response towards party funding.”

And the "information provision"?

"Attendees were given a pie chart showing that less than 10% of party funding comes from the state, no more than £5m in the past year for the three main parties combined. Slides gave as established fact the statements that there is “limited public funding” and that “parties need more money than they used to”.

But both these statements are totally unfounded:

"There are no reliable data either on the amount of public funding of party political activity or on trends in political spending since the 1980s and 1990s.

If and when the research is carried out, the total amount of public funding during the past year is likely to be £50m or more (depending on the valuation of in-kind subsidies) rather than £5m.

On top of the established subsidies, such as free political broadcasts, the party system has been undergoing a quiet revolution because of the rapid growth of new forms of indirect state aid. MPs regularly use parliamentary grants for campaigning and for partisan purposes in their constituencies.

This money filters into party politics. So do payments to MEPs and to members of devolved authorities. Parliamentary money has transformed the financing of local party organisation. There are further payments to the political staffs of ministers, elected mayors and party groups on local authorities (“Widdecombe” money). Quango jobs serve too as another form of state funding.

A member of a party management committee in a northern constituency informed me that 28 out of 31 members had a paid elective or patronage job. The cost of party advisers to Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, and to elected members of the Greater London Authority is itself greater than the entire £5m in public funding of political parties declared by the Electoral Commission.

The Phillips inquiry has chosen to play down this system of indirect public funding. It does this by classifying the channels of indirect state aid as “incumbency benefits” rather than as forms of public funding of party activity (which is what they are). By defining “public funding” too narrowly, the Phillips report misrepresents its size. This serves the purpose of artificially strengthening the case for yet more public subsidy. "


And these appalling people who 40% of voters can't even be bothered to vote for have the gall to ask for more.

Where's my flaming torch and pitchfork?


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