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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Cash for peerages

Tom Bower has an interesting article in today's Grauniad about the parliamentary inquiry into the 'cash for honours' investigation. It begins like this
Aficionados could smell the stench of rottenness pervading the Westminster committee room after Assistant Commissioner John Yates completed his testimony in Westminster yesterday. No one expects justice in banana republics, and backscratching among aristos in Ruritania is always amusing, but yesterday's farce in the mother of parliaments was worse than bewildering.

The coincidence of why four inconsequential multimillionaires should each have simultaneously and secretly agreed to lend the Labour party more than £1m on non-commercial terms, and each be nominated shortly afterwards to become a peer, has never been adequately explained.
Elsewhere in the paper, the editorial concludes
Everyone involved in this affair - the police, the prime minister and the public - has some reason to feel angry. But the fault lies with the way politicians have conducted themselves. The system of party fundraising was rotten, they knew it and now it must be changed.
So they're both nearly there. Here's my very quick analysis and solution:

At the root of the 'cash for honours' problems lies party finance. In other words, let's start from the other end and restrict severely how political parties get hold of money. One of the solutions is state funding only, with limits on individual contributions. When I hear proposals for caps on individual contributions of £50,000, or even £10,000, I fume.

The situation in the US, with virtually unlimited spending possible, ought to make us very careful here. AC Yates suggests a change in the law on donations/loans. The answer might well be to make loans and donations completely illegal, except in very tightly controlled circumstances. If a party were to go bankrupt - tough; if they can't run a whelk stall, why trust them with the country?

Individuals would be allowed paid membership of political parties, but there would be a ceiling (say £20 p.a.) on individual membership. Group membership would not be permitted. Individual donations would be permitted but only to a maximum of £10 p.a. Union members would have their individual 'political contribution' payments treated as being membership fees, but of their nominated party, and they would each be limited to the ten pound donation. Other than that, unions would not be permitted any political contribution.

The effect would be a greater interest in party politics: parties would be forced to take more account of their memberships. They would have to increase their funding by casting their nets more widely and popularly. People would become more generally involved with consensual political choices and we could do away with referendums.

Only bona fide UK citizens/taxpayers would be eligible to join political parties or to make donations. Tranches of cash from foreign millionaires would be treated as criminal money. At a stroke, one might stop the 'buying' of political parties.

It remains a problem how to decide the basis of state funding, but it wouldn't be insoluble. Again, a healthily low limit (e.g. one million pounds) for the major parties doesn't seem unreasonable.

Of course, there would be many details to work out, but the individual limits and the state contribution must be kept very low. The answer to the dismal ruperts who don't want state money spent on political parties, is that it would be a small price to pay for graft/sleaze/corruption-free politics. And, I suspect, these would be the same well-heeled ruperts that would see low limits on individual contributions as 'unfair'.

but but but ... cash for Peerages? it was ever thus.

You just have to adjust your own need for fairness.

And where is it written that peers, lords, earls etc etc is/are A Good Thing?

IMHO the labels are a warning to the rest of us to beware.

previous Lord Lucan - gambling layabout. current lord Lucan - one really screwed up guy.
present Earl Spencer - adulterer and sister-entrepreneur.
Sir James Goldsmith?
hasn't Ian bloody Botham been knighted? fer chrissakes.

name a good one.
you can't.
so calm down, the cash thing is no surprise.
Yeah, I wanted to deal principally with political financing generally, especially in/for the Commons. Treating individual large political contributions (e.g. above £10) as criminal seemed a sensible step.

When I was Down Under, a few years ago, proclaiming myself the official EU monitor of fairness at an Aussie election, I asked all about electoral spending and what happened if candidates exceeeded the limit. "We shoot 'em," came the answer.

Trust the Aussies to do things right. And now, again: 'Howard's End,' they imaginatively called it here...

My primary beef with the Lords is the inclusion of 26 or so C of E bishops. Why not astrologers?
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