Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Labour's campaign finance proposals - the politics of envy?

Of course, the Guardian isn't irredeemably in the pocket of the Labour Party. On Friday, they reported on the Electoral Commission's misgivings over Labour's new campaign finance proposals.

Politics is irredeemably linked with money. Politicians spend money (ours, for the most part), raise money for campaigning, and tell people what they can or can't do with their money. As a Liberal Democrat, I, like many of my colleagues, worry about our difficulty in keeping up with the 'arms race' of campaign finance. However, I'm realistic enough to understand that, to a great extent, money follows the prospects of power. Thus, where we are strong, we can raise funds, and where we are weak, it is more difficult.

When Labour were riding high, plenty of wealthy donors were queueing up to give them money. In turn, now that the Conservatives are seen as being likely to win the next General Election, money is easier to find.

The danger is that money, if predominantly from one source, is seen to influence our politics in a way that takes it away from the people and into the old smoke-filled rooms. And, that brings us to Lord Ashcroft of Belize. The current proposals from the Ministry of Justice are seemingly entirely aimed at stopping the flow of funding from Lord Ashcroft and, whilst I agree that there should be limits on the rights of individuals to fund political parties, you should clean out the Augean stables rather than disinfecting a corner that is inaccessible to Labour politicians.

Labour now relies on the Unions for 92% of its funding. Even if Labour is twice as popular amongst union members as it is amongst the general public (and I frankly doubt that they are), half of the members of Labour-funding unions would rather the donations be split amongst a range of political parties. No proposals for change there, I see...

In fairness, perhaps we should look at the funding rules for public companies too. Perhaps if individual shareholders could say how a company's donations were allocated, we might see a more representative funding system for political parties. Indeed, perhaps some of the minor parties might benefit, making our democracy more pluralistic.

There will be those who say that money has little impact on our democracy, and that ideas are what matters. As someone who was brought up in an advertising-flavoured environment, I can assure you that if it didn't work, political parties wouldn't do it. Money buys access to the public, and the better delivered the message (glossy, targetted, whatever), the more likely it is to make an impression.

But don't believe me, see what my old friend, Peter Facey (Director of Unlock Democracy) had to say...

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