Saturday, December 01, 2007

Recap On Party Funding


The suggested bill from Hayden Phillips

No time to blog today, except...

Does Mr Bean really think he can divert our attention from Labour's long and shameful record of criminal fundraising by threatening to revive the outrageous plan to grab more from taxpayers?

We've blogged this many times before (eg see here, here, and here). Here are some of the key points:

1. Taxpayers already pay around £50m pa to support political parties: it isn't just the cost of MPs, free TV broadcasts, free postage etc, we also need to remember all the money we spend on patronage posts (eg see here).

2. Retired mandarin Hayden Phillips wants to give them another £23m. As the excellent Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, an acknowledged expert on party funding around the world, commented:

"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."

3. Politicos spend the money dragging politics even further down into the gutter of spin and media manipulation, and away from real public debate about policy. A study by the Taxpayers' Alliance (see this blog) gave the following real world examples of party spending:
  • Media monitoring: £350 grand pa
  • Voter database: £250 grand (eg Tory Voter Vault)
  • Image consultant: £276 grand pa (eg Steve Hilton for the Tories)
  • Full-page colour broadsheet ad: £70 grand
  • Opinion polls: £25 grand each
  • Launch events: £10 grand a go

Do we want to subsidise even more of that?

4. Arguments against more public funding.

The TPA says:

  • The public should not have to pay for cynical, professional campaigning
  • It ignores the obvious short-term answer: transparency
  • It takes us further away from the real solution: more local power and more local participation in politics
  • Countries with taxpayer-funded parties still suffer from corruption
  • There would be less incentive for the parties to listen to the public and less incentive to improve their campaigning

The Committee on Standards in Public Life looked at public funding for parties and said:

  • Taxpayers should not be compelled to contribute to the support of political parties with whose outlook and policies they strongly disagree
  • Public funding could cause an existing party system – any existing party system – to ossify, with the existing parties handsomely supported out of the public purse
  • The parties might abandon efforts to raise money at the grassroots...the power of party headquarters vis-à-vis the grassroots might be considerably increased
  • Instead of representing the citizens vis-à-vis the state, the parties would be tempted to represent the state vis-à-vis the citizens; they would, in effect, have been ‘captured’ by the state. On the continent, there is talk of ‘cartel parties’, which use state funding and the state apparatus increasingly to further their own ends rather than those of the citizens they claim to represent.

We don't want to pay even more.

Instead, let's see some of these criminals go to jail.

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