A few people are talking about party funding…

Yesterday’s Guardian makes a big thing over fairly cautious comments by Tim Farron about party funding in the wake of John Denham’s call for state funding of political parties and a £5000 donation cap.

Senior Liberal Democrats are pressing Nick Clegg to reopen talks withLabour on the funding of political parties after Ed Miliband’s chief negotiator in cross-party talks called for a radical rethink on large scale donations.

They believe that statements by John Denham MP, in which he said Labour could consider imposing a £5,000 cap on donations to political parties and raising state funding, indicate there could be a future agreement between the two parties.

The Liberal Democrats are preparing for their annual conference next week, at which the issue of state funding is expected to be a key issue among senior party members.

The desire to re-engage with Labour shows that members of the Lib Dems are happy to to leave behind the Tories on party funding reforms.

Tim Farron, the party’s president, said Denham’s comments showed there was common ground between the two parties. “What this indicates is that there is a willingness [within Labour] not to let this drop and that is welcome.

“We have always been keen to talk, that is still there – I have always thought that party talks should be reactivated. But it has to be done with sensitivity.

“These are interesting suggestions that John has made. We could well coalesce around them,” he said.

I’m not quite sure where they’re getting that it’s going to be a big thing at Conference next week. It’s going to have to get in the queue behind the rows over the 50p tax rate, the economy, nuclear power, internet pornography and Trident.

Denham brings this up barely two months after Nick Clegg said in a ministerial statement that there would be no progress on party funding in this parliament. We reported this at the time and Nick Thornsby said:

It seems to me that until there is a public uprising against the rotten state of party funding, Labour and Tory self-interest and belligerence will continue to stifle any deal.

This latest flurry of activity doesn’t seem to signal any change in the Labour leadership’s position. Would they really be brazen enough to go into an election, as the article suggests, on a platform of getting the big money out of politics?

There’s really not a lot to see in this story. Wake me up when we have a real prospect of genuine negotiations.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Sep '13 - 7:11pm

    Capping party funding is deeply illiberal. People and organisations should be free to campaign on whatever issue they please and give their money to whoever they want.

    Overall, the current system works well. The way to tackle cash or jobs for policies is to prosecute anyone involved in it. Even if we can’t get rid of it all, it’s the least worst situation, I believe.

  • Alisdair McGregor 7th Sep '13 - 8:20pm

    Am I the only Liberal Democrat that doesn’t like the idea of state funding of political parties?

  • Parties should rise and fall based on the strength and popularity of their ideas, not the size of their coffers. But of course, we all know that wealth gives a party access to information markets, and allows it to spread bad ideas as easily as good ones. And what those ideas will be largely depends on where the money comes from. If the money comes from trade unions, it will be ideas that benefit trade unions. If it comes from bankers, it will be ideas that benefit banks. In no case, however, will the ideas be ones that benefit a large majority of small donors, if their voices can easily be silenced by a much smaller number of larger donations from powerful interests.

  • Martin Lowe 7th Sep '13 - 10:45pm

    We are now in an era where we are in danger of losing democracy through apathy. The only first world country that is noticeably taking action over this has been Australia, with its compulsory voting (which I’m not a fan of, being Liberal an everything), and State funding o political parties gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    The only real solution is to re-engage the public, – but how? the only thing I can think of doing this is something like a Council Tax rebate for turning up to vote.

  • Maggie Smith 7th Sep '13 - 11:39pm

    @Martin Lowe.

    How about they don’t sell on my name from the registered voters list to anyone who wants it? The default possition should be that they are not available.

    Maybe if they didn’t use peoples details for credit rating agencies under some pretence of fraud prevention then people who care about their privacy might consider reapplying to vote. I strongly object to this use. That list should be for the purpose of preventing voting fraud only and it says a lot that what should be a fairly simple concept, a free vote in a free country should have some commercial dead weight hung on it in the form of registry information sales.

  • paul barker 8th Sep '13 - 12:02am

    The question is whether Denham was speaking just for himself or flying a kite for The Labour Leadership ? If Labour are serious about capping donations & spending then we should grab the oppurtunity before they get too bogged down in their own internal struggles.

  • “The only real solution is to re-engage the public, – but how? the only thing I can think of doing this is something like a Council Tax rebate for turning up to vote.” Interesting idea. However, do we really want the outcome of our elections determined by people who are only voting because of a financial inducement? Although I abhor political apathy, it does at least increase the value (importance) of the votes of those of us who do!

  • peter tyzack 8th Sep '13 - 11:32am

    I am uneasy about state funding for parties, but state funding for the electoral process would be a good step.. eg, if I stand for an internal party position the process is paid for by the party, I submit the artwork for a given size of leaflet, the party prints it and sends it out to all the voters.
    The free delivery of one leaflet at General Elections was a start, and should be extended to all elections. Voter information leaflets have been paid for at referendums and delivered by Royal Mail, so the precedent is established.

  • Peter – excellent point. I think the public would be much more comfortable supporting publicity in the electoral process. Many complained that they knew nothing about the police election. So maybe a Freepost for local elections?

    Much cheaper requirements would be for every Returning Officer to include on the Notice of Poll whatever contact details a candidate supplies e.g. Phone, email and website and to put that information into a web page.

    Next up in expenditure would be to publish that Information in local papers or, more expensive, to put a list of candidates and contact details on the back of Poll Cards.

    But little of that directly supports political parties, which is what the debate is about.

  • Peter Hayes 8th Sep '13 - 2:27pm

    State funding should be limited to one free mailing and TV PPB based on the number of candidates on a regional basis, no SNP broadcasts in Cornwall and not many UKip in Scotland.

    As for the rest there is a conspiracy between the Conservatives and Labour, one shouts a lot about Union funding the other shouts about hedge funds etc. There should be a cap on any organisation but neither party will accept it because it gives them an advantage over smaller parties. Also any expenditure by the national party in any constituency should count against the costs of their local candidate. The Conservatives saturated Cheltenham at the last general election with Vote Conservative posters which did not name the candidate.

  • All donations above £1000, should be paid to the Electoral Commission, who would vet it, aggregate it and pass it on anonymously to the relevant party.

    To either reveal yourself as a donor(futile anyway, how would you prove it?) or accept money from a known source would be illegal. Given the costs compared to the benefits, this seem an unlikely scenario.

    We could therefore be sure donors have no political influence, without having to resort to caps or taxpayer funding.

  • Julian Tisi 9th Sep '13 - 1:13pm

    I agree with some level of state funding as the least bad option, given that if things continue as they have done we could end up with the situation in America where candidates are effectively delegates of the special interest groups that fund them. I don’t want to end up in a democracy where certain things will never change because it’s against the wishes of the ones with the most money.

    But I agree that “state funding” is unattractive. But I like Peter Tyzack’s idea – of funding for the electoral process. In practice the current freepost only covers general elections and even then, only the postage. But if this were extended, that could be more palatable to the public than “state funding”

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