The Arrogance of James Purnell 30


James Purnell has decided that the answer to the problems of our political system is for the taxpayer to give out yet more money to politicians, by increased state funding of political parties.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/29/parliament-reform-a-new-politics

The comments section reflects the predictable, and quite justified, outrage over the public at the sight of a politician planning to siphon off yet mote of their taxes to his own advantage. Purnell’s ludicrous suggestion is a sign of how completely New Labour are out of touch with the mood of the electorate.

But his proposal is much more dangerous than the sums of money involved. The parties assume they have a god given right to be entrenched in our constitution. They act as though the political parties embody democracy. In fact the parties, with their spin, vicious leadership structures and whipping to stifle thought and debate, are the enemy of emocracy. Why should the people fund them, and further disadvantage independent candidates and emergent parties and groupings?

One solution to the financial problems of political parties is to ban national advertising during election campaigns.

The current system is farcically unfair. As an independent candidate at the last general election, I was severely constrained in the amount of money I was allowed to spend by law on campaigning. Yet all around the constituency, vast billboards carried New Labour posters. That did not break Jack Straw’s spending limit, because it was national not constituency advertising. But I was not allowed to do anything to match it.

I am not convinced that the ever larger budgets of the major parties at elections do anything to enhance our democracy. Certainly let them campaign, hold meetings and press conferences, get all the media coverage they can. Let them raise money and fund it themselves. But paid national advertising should be banned. Local meetings, leaflets, canvassers and the electoral address should become principal sources of information about candidates again. The internet is relatively inexpensive.

I have no difficulty with trade union members paying a levy to New Labour, providing they choose to opt in to it. But I can think of no reason why any trade union member would think it was in their interest to fund people like James Purnell.

There should be a cap on the size of individual donations to parties – perhaps twenty thousand pounds might be reasonable.

The answer to the funding problems of political parties, is for the party organisations to become much smaller, less powerful, employ far far fewer amoral besuited spin doctors, spend less on advertising and go back to being highly dependent on voluntary workers.

Now that’s real democracy.


30 thoughts on “The Arrogance of James Purnell

  • Tom

    I was surprised to see Purnell admit “Without recognition that in our society and in our politics money buys power and dictates influence” even if this is something of a truism.

    I was also surprised to see Craig suggest a cap on donations of £20k as this is close to average annual earnings, this would give a big advantage to the wealthy.

    I don’t understand why parties need to market themselves like soap; by their nature they tend to make the headlines every day, even if they don’t get to write all of them.

  • James Chater

    The politicians have mis-spent taxpayers’ money. Purnell’s solution? Give them more.

  • David McKelvie

    I agree with your ideas here on funding, Craig.

    I would make the further point that if the parties are doing such a bad job of reaching out to the electorate to the extent that they can’t convince people to donate or pay a sub then let them go to the wall.

    There’s no God-given right for any of them to exist. In fact, it was a truism in the 18th and early 19th Centuries that ‘Party’ was an unconstitutional device (despite Wellington’s later comment about “damn your principles; stick to your Party”).

    And as well as clearing out the spinners and ad-salesmen, they could clean out the Augean Stables of Party Headquarters’ agents’ offices.

    We can see from the USA how lavish election spending corrupts democracy in favour of corporate entities and the plutocrats.

  • KevinB

    Real democracy would return nearly all power over peoples lives to the individual and a small self-supporting community in which he/she lives.

    The best models (that I have seen) for helping people to take and internalise responsibility, maximise their talents and their ability to give and delevelop a mutually supportive society that nurtures trust and peacefulness are:

    1) A.S. Neill’s Summerhill school.

    2) Ricardo Semler’s business and schools in Brazil.

    Semler is a genius. He handed over his billion dollar per year business to his workers to run. They can work whenever they like, they can pay themselves what they like, they can hire who they like as managers, they can take their holidays when they like. The business is as successful as ever.

    That’s democracy.

  • KevinB

    I should have said all this talk of ‘democracy’ is so much pfaff while our lives are entirely dominated by debt and supra-parliamentary forces.

    NuLabour or any other ‘democratic’ party should divide the UK into small communities of a size where everyone can know everyone, get the system going, then get out of our lives completely and let us evolve a new system for national representation.

    Then we might have some kind of democracy (if that word means ‘power to the people’).

  • ingo

    I also would favor a decentralisation of power, the regions look preferably big enough to have our own accountable and fairly elected reps., we can easily replicate the vast mistakes made on a daily basis, some with intent, here in our own localities.

    Infallible minds have yet to be born and at one or other time we have to live with the fact that mistakes have occured, but to stand up to them is as important, integrity in adversity is a notion that comes very hard to us and hence mistakes are excused stupidity and ignorance of facts, to the extent that historie is rewriten.

    That said, once one exorcises one’s misdemeanour and unpleasantness with openess, remorse and good suggestions as to how remit what went wrong, than that is what we should accept for us all.

    A second chance.

    Still lets have some form of PR, local Government, turn Westminster into a museum whilst supranational functions are carried out by elected memebers of all regional chambers, all subjected to re call.

    Judges and chief constables could as well be elected as to pecking order. This would require some rewriting of existing legislation. Sadly I have no need for a House of Lords in this model, although with modern technology they could all still talk to each other as usual.

    Whatever is on peoples agenda should once again be in balance with our interactions with the outer world, we can still be open and democratic and just to each other, as much as to the outside world.

    If thats too simple I apologise for having wasted your time.

    I am standing as an Independet in the local elections, stood previously in the Eastern regions european election as a canddiate, so I expect people to be voting on the Lisbon treaty, because thats the referenda denied to us.

    I expect Greens to do well, sadly the UKIP might also get more votes. I hope that a certain Nazi saluter will not get elected in the North West, there is a viable and very good alternative available, bar the three main parties, I would not like to see him gaining a European platform to vent him brain, his ego does not need stretching any further, imho.

    Yes please, lets have local control over our demeanours and our politicians.

  • ingo

    Oops,forgot ‘follows’ after ‘ignorance of facts’ in the seond paragraph, please forgive my typos (rewritten,dooohh), as long as you get the guist… ta Ingo

  • Jason

    I predicted this issue would resurface earlier this week on my blog, and now here it is.

    People have to beware of the “package of reforms” that are going to be introduced. The fact is, we are up against an enemy that uses every situation to try to forward its agenda. Clearly there are “reforms” that could be introduced that will suit MPs and the parties far more than democracy or the population. This is just one such anti-democratic proposal.

    No compelling case has been advanced as to why the main parties should 1) exist in perpetuity, regardless of whether their policies have been continuously rejected, and 2) that this state money, and how it is to be divided, should be decided by these parties themselves, that can only serve to freeze out other political parties from emerging.

    The reason for 1, above, is surely the ‘first past the post’ system of UK elections. It is high time that this was done away with to provide routes to electoral success from outside of the behemoths of the main parties.

    The last point is that the entire argument is bogus re: the big money. Where will that big money go? It won’t just disappear.

    Two things will happen, 1) Parliament will retain its relevance and the big money will arrive in ‘soft contributions’ etc

    2) Parliament will lose some of its relevance and the big money will be spent elsewhere (more in Brussels???)

    Trying to take the money out of politics is like trying to take the mud out of mud wrestling.

  • ceedee

    “There should be a cap on the size of individual donations to parties – perhaps twenty thousand pounds might be reasonable.”

    I’m curious as to how you arrived at that figure?

    Surely the maximum donation should be (roughly) affordable by the majority of voters to avoid favouritism?

    The lower the limit, the more that supporters would be encouraged to volunteer their time and energy rather than disposable lucre, which in my mind would be altogether preferable.

  • VamanosBandidos

    The Israel First Purnell, wary of the austerities brought on by the pecuniary famine that will be facing the neo labour project for a goodly decade or two, suddenly seeing the light; discovers the joys of socialism! The intrepid cheeky Israel Firster, conjures the socialist roots, harkens the nation to summon and invest in its political parties.

    Furthermore elaborating that; only by nationalisation of the political parties the nation will be keeping away the grubby little mitts of the filthy rich, rottenly wealthy, and celebrity famous from the levers of our democracy. (For now at least until he and his kind get in there, and write up the new rules, so that whence caught red handed, again, these can invoke the; rules, are rules, and we all acted according to these rules in the best possible faith, and remain above the law, yet again.)

    This line of thinking is not new, and was of course used first by the filthy rich, and rottenly wealthy bankers whom suddenly discovered the joys of socialism too, and proceeded to foist their counterfeit bonds, and worthless bits of paper onto; we the people, promising us, no bank runs, only a bankrupt country, just to keep the worst of the depression from happening.

    Boy this socialism for the rich, and mighty, and fascism for; we the poor, and powerless people, could only have been dreamt up by the neo labourites. I no longer feel the buyer of the last resort, in fact feel more like the latrine of the first resort, I am sure the rest of the fellow latrines mistakenly believing themselves to be; we the people ought to feel the same.

    Memo to Mr. James Israel Purnell,

    Dear Sir,

    The only use that we can find for you, given your expertise, and skill set; is a part time vacancy , for the duration of every other weekend (too many members of parliament have applied for these positions) for you to attend any number of available, and designated supermarket car parks, and ensure that shopping trolleys are not blocking the parking bays, and or the pathways for traffic through the relevant car park.

    PS. minimum wage will be applied, tips (if you get any) have to be declared to customs and excise.

    PPS no expenses can be submitted.

    PPPS no collections for ducks, and ducks’; island/house/maisonette/bungalow/moat, are to be permitted for the duration of the hours working.

  • Anonymous

    Legislation and education need to get people back into the mantality that they are first voting to elect a person not a party. Then a balance needs to be reached on how this would translate into an effective legislature.

    Answers how to do this on a postcard…

  • kathz

    I’m worried by the current enthusiasm (from Lib Dems as well as Labour) for Alternative Vote Plus – a system that shores up party power and makes life even harder for independents. I’ve been in favour of proportional representation since my schooldays but could I’m not sure I could vote for a party supporting AV+ with its mix of MPs (nominally) accountable to their constituents and candidates on the list who are accountable only to their party. Under this system, independents have a choice between campaigning in a larger constituency (needing more votes to be elected) or the absurdity of an independents’ alliance like the Jury Team (in the European elections, their first candidate on our local list supports civil liberties while the second is keenest to crack down on immigration). I think parties and independents should both be present but the vital thing is to empower the voters, not by push-button politics but by encouraging widespread political thought and debate.

  • George Laird

    Dear All

    Some sort of premod rolling about here?

    My comment is to be vetted?

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • frank verismo

    “As an independent candidate at the last general election, I was severely constrained in the amount of money I was allowed to spend by law on campaigning. Yet all around the constituency, vast billboards carried New Labour posters. That did not break Jack Straw’s spending limit, because it was national not constituency advertising. But I was not allowed to do anything to match it.”

    Since the days of Cecil Rhodes the money power has established unelected (and thus unremoveable) institutions to formulate all important policy. Chief among these is the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). The major parties are merely the implementers, not the originators of such policies.

    Given that the major parties have done such a splendid job of riding roughshod over the wishes of the electorate (implementing the policies handed to them by the unelected power), why on earth would said power allow a level playing field for independent minds such as yourself, Craig? It’s as if you think we live in a genuine democracy!

    As prof Quigley noted:

    “The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can throw the rascals out at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. Then it should be possible to replace it, every four years if necessary, by the other party, which will be none of these things but will still pursue, with new vigor, approximately the same basic policies.” Tragedy and Hope

    Are we still looking in the wrong place for solutions?

  • Anonymous

    In the aftermath of his humiliating defeat at the polls after the war, Churchill limited the amount of money any individual could donate to his Tories. £500, I believe. This was to encourage his local constituency parties to go out on the streets and find new members and new donors rather than relying on a few rich people to prop them up.

    Worked, too. In ’51 he got back in.

    As for the inequities of party politics, it may not be the ideal system but it is the least bad. A state with no formal parties simply becomes a state with one informal party, a one-non-party state like Jersey.

  • mary

    This is an extract from a blog which has 26 items on the afore mentioned James Purnell’s greed, hypocrisy and arrogance.

    ‘Following on from the article, the Telegraph alleges that James claimed £247 for 3,000 “flexible fridge magnets”. We can only presume that they are for the big fridge which accommodates £400 a months worth of groceries. Also claimed was £223 for a new digital camera which was classed as an office expense.

    On another article, The Telegraph attacks MPs who used taxpayer funds to promote themselves with local sports teams. Purnell claimed £411.25 on a programme advertisement for the 2004/05 season at Stalybridge Celtic Football Club as part of his communications allowance. The Telegraph doesn’t mention any further advertising after that. Perhaps it had something to do with the small detail that there was a general election in 2005?

    The hole for James just gets deeper …’

    The blogger obviously loves him…not.

    http://tamesidemafia.blogspot.com/search/label/james%20purnell

  • anticant

    The accursed power which stands on Privilege

    (And goes with Women, and Champagne, and Bridge)

    Broke?”and Democracy resumed her reign:

    (Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).

    Hilaire Belloc – “On a General Election” – 1906

  • Suhayl Saadi

    The major players in Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are SIS stooges; Blair was simply the most obvious example.

    The Telegraph(s) and Spectator are SIS fronts, virtually in-house magazines.

    During the 1960s and 1970s, nearly all the industrial correspondents in the UK were on the SS payroll.

    David Rose admitted in print that for many years he would write stories which he knew had been planted on him by people he knew to be SIS officers.

    The SS and SIS have journalists on the payroll (or else so sympathetic they don’t need to be paid to reproduce lies) in every sector of the national media.

    This entire ‘expenses row’ is one more round in the game of musical chairs. I would like to stop the music for good and smash the machine.

    Now that would be a fantasy I could hold onto!

  • Ruth

    I totally agree with Suhayl Saadi.

    There’s no point at all in discussing political reform until we know where the decision to go to war with Iraq came from, where the decision to systematically curtail our freedoms comes from.

    Is there a shadow government? Was Gerald James right when he said:

    The Privy Council allied with the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and the Cabinet and Cabinet Intelligence Unit which is the real control over the security and intelligence services are part of the secret permanent unaccountable Government.

    Does this body have its own source of funds? If so are these funds taken from VAT/excise fraud? There’s evidence of CHIS involvement in such frauds.

    I’m sure the expenses row has been engineered. There’s a vast and growing number of disaffected people who don’t believe they have any say in what happens in the country. Such disaffection is very dangerous to a ruling body; when things get really bad people will rise up and things are going to get much worse. So an illusion must be created to rein in rebellious thoughts and what better way than ‘transferring power to the people’

  • mary

    Ruth is correct. This is an illusion of democracy. Read Stuart Littlewood’s piece on what is rotten at the core – allegiance to another state, the terror state of Israel. He omits Dismore as chair of the JPCHR from his list.

    http://www.uruknet.info/?p=m54683&hd=&size=1&l=e

    When you visit the Uruknet site, you can scroll through dozens of articles on the horrors inflicted on the peoples of the Middle East and beyond, including much graphic evidence of the horrifying torture than has been inflicted. There is one article there that reports Bush’s recent speech in Michigan to a ‘sympathetic audience’ e (following Cheney’s line) in defending this torture.

    The vortex continues to suck even stronger.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    I guess many people will already be familiar with this piece from 2000, but there’s no harm posting a link to it again now, if only to remind ourselves of the pernicious nature of the military state. I suspect that matters will only have intensified since then. This is a very unusual and direct article to have appeared in the mainstream media. I’m very surprised it got through in its published form:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2000/jun/12/pressandpublishing.mondaymediasection

    I’m not posting all this in order to discredit the ‘expenses’ story’, but merely to remind people – though I’m sure the people who visit this site hardly need reminded – that whenever there is a political media circus, there also is likely to be a political media circus-master. Or possibly, a team of political media circus-masters. And, as has been pointed out, distraction is one of central tactics of any magician – “Look, seven white rabbits!” while the real sleight-of-hand goes on continuously underneath. In many other countries, it is understood that this is how the state works the world of information, but here in Britain, many people – though not as many as the mainstream media would have us believe – have fallen fast asleep in the midst of a strange reverie called representative parliamentary democracy.

  • Craig

    George Laird,

    That’s a glitch. Sometimes that message comes up and your comment vanishes. We can’t find where the message comes from or what happens to the comment!

  • Craig

    ceedee

    No magic figure. Just a balance to be struck with people’s right to spend their own money as they wish, which is also an important principle. If I wanted to sell my car and give the money to the Green Party, why shouldn’t I be allowed to? (Not that I have a car).

  • George Laird

    Dear Craig

    Thanks for the explanation. It seemed odd, never had that happen before on this site.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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