Friday, March 31, 2006

State Funding of Political Parties

If those jolly chaps John Prescott and Ken Clarke agree on something, it must not only be wrong but dangerous. Both have spoken recently for state funding of political parties. What rot.

A party is a conspiracy, a caucus, a means of rigging votes. Party whips routinely drive the weak and ambitious through the wrong voting lobbies. As Disraeli famously said, "Damn your principles! Stick to your Party!"

In an ideal world, parties would not exercise such power. Free born men and women would proudly represent the best interests of their constituents to the best of their ability. Every vote would be a free vote. Alliances would form and reform daily, according to the issues at hand.

Of course there is no hope of that. Like minded individuals would form groups and caucuses again if the present parties were banned. All kinds of "campaign committees" would form to fund national election campaigns. Parties are evil, but inevitable. There are no democratic systems without them.

However, there is no magic in the present set of British Political Parties. Once there were Whigs and Tories. Then "Every little girl and boy that's born into the world alive" was "Either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative". After that, came the Labour Party and the Liberals faded and dwindled. Labour's snake shed a skin, which became the SDP, which merged with the Liberal Party to become the LibDems, the more glossily to fade and dwindle. UKIP rose and fell. The Nationalists rose, and please God will one day fall, in Scotland and Wales.

State Funding would stop all that. We would lock in the present set of parties which would lose all interest in attracting members - other than professional politicos. If you think Labour is lost to its electorate now, imagine it with all the money it needed from the taxpayers, with no need for grass roots.

I would be all in favour of limiting political contributions to £100,000 per person per year, to ensure that no political party fell into the hands of big business or big Unions. Where would the parties then get the money? Well, they are essentially private clubs, so isn't that really their problem? Let them look for members, and charge them realistic subscriptions. Let them talk to their voters and adapt their ideas to their voters' desires. Let them use volunteers to man their election campaigns, rather than slick PR men and TV advertising. In short, let them reconnect with "the people" they claim to speak for.

New Labour could never have happened if it depended on grass roots support. Nor could Cameron's New New Labour. It seems reasonable that the political class in Britain should be in dialogue with its party members. If a party can't find enough members to fund its activities, perhaps that says it all about its relevance to modern society.

Lolly for Lordships and state funding of parties both have the same effect; they make party members irrelevant. If the parties had to build memberships to survive, they might find the political apathy of which they so hypocritically complain begin to wane. If the policies presented at a General Election had been forged in party meetings across the nation, not just made up because the focus groups liked them, maybe politics would be worthy of the nation's attention again. Maybe.

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