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.
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.