You don’t have to be mad to give money to the Tories but it helps

15 October, 2007

Well so says the High Court. This maybe some good news but remember the Conservatives are already chucking serious amounts of money at marginal seats. Indeed one of the factors, in the end discounted by Gordon, in not calling the election is that Lord Ashcrofts millions will be flowing into marginal seats over the next year or so.

Are donations of this size from private individuals ethical? How many party leaders are going to tell someone like Lord Ashcroft or an £8m donor to sod off if they start asking for “favours”?

So what should the progressive response be? Firstly we should be thinking about what weapons we want to use in the political battle and perhaps we may want to put restrictions on the amount of them that we use and how many we have to pay for. For instance with the future of TV going to be not just over the airwaves but across the internet what is going to happen to the Party Political Broadcast?

Second we need to up our game by raising more small donations over the Internet. The United States over recent years has proved that it can be done. It is also the form of donation to a political party that has the least connotations of reciprocity and perhaps not incidentally the highest amount of public confidence.

Personally I would like to ban donations from businesses but unless we want to ban donations from trade unions as well which I can’t see that ever happening as the trade union link is inviolable to the Labour Party.

A future Tory government will have the union link in its sights. If we kiss goodbye to the union modernisation fund in anything later than the first week of a future tory government I would be gobsmacked. A Conservative government will always attack the rights of working people to collectively try to better themselves and the progressive institutions that support that struggle will be key targets for any incoming Conservaive administration.

There are things however that we should be doing to promote the political engagement of the electorate. Some of which I think there is a case for spending public money. We all know that there are major political deserts for all of the parties where the amount of activism undertaken by one party is effectively nil or nearly nil so in effect giving the party in power locally a free ride and an excuse to get lazy. I think this is unhealthy for democracy as a whole and for the political parties. This is why i support the recommendations coming from the Power Inquiry and the Cruddas deputy leadership campaign that someones vote will mean a small donation from the public purse to their political party, say£3 which would have to be spent on local organisers.

Local is the crucial word here. I think there is no case whatsoever for public money to be used in an arms race of expensive billboard posters in the few weeks before the election. But what we do know is that where voters percieve a close contest between competing parties and where activism takes place they are more likely to be engaged in the political process as turnout is likely to be higher. This would require that money from the public purse is spent only in the local constituency. No trips to annoy even more voters during parliamentary by elections. No working at party HQ after a general election is called. Just local graft, educating voters, developing activists and increasing the thickness of our sometimes thread bear social fabric of our democracy.


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