Recently the Papers have been all over the ‘Cash for Cameron’ scandal. As I’m sure many of you have heard, Peter Cruddas (co-treasurer of the Conservative party) was caught on camera offering access to David Cameron and opportunities to influence policy in exchange for sums of £250,000 and more. Since then, following considerable political heat and media frenzy, Cameron has admitted that a total of £23m has been raised through hosting private lunches and dinners at Number 10 since the general election.
To some extent rich people will always be more likely to mix with the political elite because they all hang out at the same clubs, restaurants and resorts. However, on this occasion, I believe that this is more than a quick natter in the prep-school playground and highlights the need for reform of party funding in this country. It’s true that controversy over funding has affected all parties at some point, they rely too heavily on large donations; The Tories from wealthy individuals, and Labour from the Unions. One thing most seem to agree on is that reform of the funding system is needed but what is less clear is how.
The most visible solution is to make politics state funded, in the same way as some European countries, where the taxpayer provides the majority of parties’ funding. State funding can materialize in many different forms according to each country’s political system, unfortunately state funded politics can also come with a host of new problems, and on second thoughts it is difficult to see this as the answer.
The fact is that state funding wouldn’t necessarily make parties less dependent on big donors and that in countries such as Germany (with some of the highest levels of public funding) some of the biggest party funding scandals have been witnessed (Flick affair 1980’s and the Kohl Scandal 1990’s) only add to other, more practical, difficulties.
Difficulties such as; it is highly doubtful the UK general public would approve the state funding of politics after the fallout from the expenses scandal and how many would feel uncomfortable with their taxes going towards parties such as the BNP?
The alternative solution would be to implement caps on large donations. However trying to get everyone to agree on what constitutes a ‘large’ donation is difficult enough as we have seen from the stalled parliamentary debate since November 2011. Even if we were to find an agreeable figure, there are always loopholes as witnessed in America where wealthy donors have made the maximum party donations from themselves, their wife, their daughter and the dog!
The real crux of this issue is the disconnect between grassroots members and the funding system. While there does need to be some form of cap on large donations encouraging lots of smaller donations, parties also need to chase new members and donors with policies that appeal to the everyday person. In the era of internet campaigning this is entirely feasible. The tools are there to be utilised, just look at Obama’s use of social media throughout his time in office and the way in which many large NGO’s work as membership organisations that are funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from thousands of members. Members fund them because they believe in what they stand for and work towards. Surely this would represent a more democratic way of funding those politicians who are supposed to be representing the majority and not just the wealthy few?
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