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Monday, March 20, 2006
Financing politics

The scandal over the use of ‘loans’ (which don’t have to be declared), instead of donations (which do) has exercised many minds in all the political parties. Journalists have been having a good go at it, too.

When the Labour Party was short of cash and under attack from the Tories for Labour’s reliance on money from trades unions, they had a golden opportunity to strangle the flow of money from rich Tory supporters. For some reason (foresight?), they did not do this. Now, it looks as though the boots have shifted onto the other feet: Labour now gets more cash from rich individuals than do the Conservatives. They’ve both been getting big, secret (legal) loans, too. So neither is going willingly to accept restrictions that’ll staunch this flow but it needs to be done.

Many commentators are saying that, provided everything is above board and that all finance, however provided, should be declared/transparent and what have you, then it’s OK. Others are suggesting, additionally, that there should be some sort of limit on the amount an individual can give. None of this is good enough. Let’s look at these proposals.

Firstly, if one doesn’t put an upper limit on donations, there’s the distinct possibility that someone like Roman Abramovich could buy up a party – he’s already bought Chelsea Football Club by throwing obscene amounts of money at it. He’s got the results, too: Chelsea are top of the English Premier league. Just think of someone having that amount of influence on a political party. Even if donations are capped (£25000 or £50000 have been mentioned), that sort of level would entitle donors/loaners to expect some sort of pay-back.

It’s just not good enough to insist on seeing if a donation/loan is transparent, therefore. Money buys influence; the more money the more the influence. It’s just wrong to have large amounts of money coming from a few wealthy people to finance politics. Look at the horrific situation in the US: since they (virtually) equate free speech with money and vice versa, elections are up for the grabs of the richest. What a disgusting state of affairs!

We have to take the very idea of buying political influence out of the political arena and there’s one basic way to do it: that is to control political finance ruthlessly. I have only part of a proposal: firstly, it is open to anyone to become a member of a political party but the membership fee should be set by legislation. I suggest a maximum of £20. No donations, however small, will be permitted with the membership fee.

The next bit is the most important, though, and I don’t begin to propose a comprehensive solution; state funding may be the only way, perhaps. However, the most important safeguard, whatever the legal funding method, is to make all political contributions illegal. Wouldn’t it be just lovely to make giving money to a political party, other than the annual (low) membership subscription, a criminal offence?

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