Joe Armitage is Chairman of Medway Conservative Future and Deputy Chairman (Political), Rochester East Conservatives. He also works for a Conservative MP. Follow him on Twitter.
Party funding reform is inevitable, not least
because it’s something the Liberal Democrats will cite as a ‘red line’ for any
future coalition (their red lines are mounting up – what with a mansion tax and
Trident reductions already indicated). It is highly likely that we’ll end up with
public party funding, given that there is an ever-increasing number of
unashamedly parasitical career politicians amongst the ranks of the three main
parties’ front benches. We should not let this happen, however – for the current
funding of political parties has little cause for shame.
In the UK, there are meant to be two parties, each at different ends of the political spectrum: the capitalist Conservative
Party and left-leaning Labour. Each party has its roots, and the roots of the modern Conservative Party are associated with capitalism and free enterprise, whilst the
unions are the roots of Labour. As such, I do not see it as sleazy or
inappropriate for private sector businessman and entrepreneurs to donate to a
party which typically legislates for low tax-and-spend economies, which allows
for business and ultimately the country to flourish.
Equally, it isn’t wrong
for unions and their members, if they so choose, to donate to a party that has
been historically left-leaning and affiliated with their views on the public
sector. Only the democratic legitimacy of the
donation process is necessary to attack. For example, the fact that at present everybody who joins a union which is
affiliated to Labour is assumed to consent to £3 of their subs being donated to
the Labour Party through the political levy is wrong, and it’s positive Ed
Miliband has signalled his intention to change this. To truly
ascertain whether an individual wants to donate their money to the party, they
should be given an option to opt-in.
Additionally, Miliband should be open
to legislate to change the fact that unions can become affiliated to Labour despite
ballots having exceptionally low turnouts – usually no more than 15 per cent. These
changes, however, will give more power to union barons, since their political
budgets will be substantially increased without so many £3 deductions funneled
directly to Labour. It will enable them to choose whether to donate union money
to Labour if their policies are preferable to them… nothing inappopriate about
Labour will have to woo union barons, and given that
a larger proportion of union political funds will be at their disposal the
unions may end up with more bang for their buck – perhaps we might even see a repeat of the
Warwick Agreement, which played a crucial role in formulating the manifesto of
the Labour Party in 2004. On this basis, it is highly hypocritical of Labour to
attack the Conservatives because they are funded by business people supporting the
Government in their pursuit to free up the very red tape the Warwick Agreement
The alternative of public funding is far worse than
what we have now. The public loathes politicians enough at present, and selling
them the idea of funding political parties will lead to even more apathy than
we have currently. In addition, public funding would put inplace an incredible bias against emerging parties which rely on donations to keep afloat – if we want
to live in a pluralistic society in which all parties have an equal chance of
success, then the current system is the only way of assuring that.
It would be
in the interest of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to stop
throwing stones at each other’s glass houses, and accept that the current
mechanism for party funding is the least worst option available.