Thursday, March 15, 2007

We Still Don't Want To Pay

We've blogged the Hayden Phillips attempted stitch-up on party funding before, but today we have his Report. As his summary table shows, he wants us to pay an extra £23.4m pa.
I've had a quick scan of his quite slim report, trying to discover why on earth he thinks we taxpayers might want to do this. After all, although his entire working life was spent in the Civil Service, he's a bright fellow. He must know we all loath our politicos, and we want LESS, not MORE. Musn't he?
So what's his argument?
He actually comes up with three:
  • Quid pro quo- the proposed restriction on individual donations "would impose significant restrictions on the parties’ freedom to raise their own funds", and there would be "new obligations in terms of compliance and reporting. These measures are in the public interest, and it is fair and reasonable to use public funds to help offset their financial impact". We say forget it- we never asked the parties to take all those huge dodgy "donations", and we don't usually compensate people when we outlaw their financial scams. Let's have the £50,000 limit for sure, but there's no compensation
  • Financial instability- "our political parties all face long-term financial instability because of the rising costs of their business... Financial instability is the enemy of healthy politics, and an injection of public funds is merited if we are to maintain public confidence in our democracy." Yeah. Well, Your Grace, what happens in the real world is that people have to manage their costs so they're kept in line with income. If our parties can't even manage their own finances, then wtf should we let them have a go on the nation's?
  • Building democratic engagement- "there is a widely discussed and lamented decline in democratic engagement in this country, manifested in falling election turnouts and falling party membership rolls. Properly targeted, public funding can make some contribution to reinvigorating the parties’ drive to involve and engage more members of the public in political debate." What a load of piffle. Doling out yet more taxpayers cash to politicos will make them even less likely to engage us.

Phillips proposes dishing out the cash on the basis of "public support". In the main that would be via a 50p pa poll sub for every vote cast in the general election. Why he thinks the act of voting constitutes "public support" for funding a party is unclear. (Athough it would at least mean if you really didn't want any of the above, you'd have an extra incentive not to vote at all- that way, you'd save taxpayers 50p pa, and if enough of us did it, they'd go bust and just go away. Maybe.)

The truth, as we blogged here, is that our parties already get a huge chunk of public funding. But mysteriously, this is largely ignored in the Report.

The excellent Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, an acknowledged expert on party funding around the world, laid into Hayden Phillips' snowjob here, noting:

"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."

He reckons we're already shelling out £50m pa. So the real question is how can we reduce that?

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