By Tim Montgomerie
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On the front page of this morning's Guardian is the news that an inquiry is to recommend that political parties receive £3 for every vote they receive at a general election. Based on the outcome of the last election this would equal £32 million for the Conservatives, £25.8 million for Labour and £20.4 million for the Liberal Democrats – all paid for by the taxpayer. This would be a windfall for parties that are struggling to retain members but is likely to be very unpopular with voters.
The subsidy would be also be a quid pro quo for the introduction of a £50,000 limit on donations to political parties. Big government money would replace money from big donors and big unions. The Guardian tells us that "donations of £50,001 or more accounted for 41% of Liberal Democrat income, 54% of Conservative and 76% of Labour party declared donation income." The high Labour percentage is explained by Ed Miliband's chronic dependence on the trade unions.
There was talk of a £10,000 cap but the Tory Co-Chairman Lord Feldman has objected. He wrote to the inquiry arguing that "a cap of £10,000 would hugely inhibit the ability of political parties to engage with the electorate." It is, I think, precisely the other way round. A high cap and state funding will actually increase the remoteness of political parties from the electorate. Not only will state funding of existing political parties make it harder for small parties to flourish it will also reduce the need for political parties to connect with and understand the concerns of ordinary voters and turn them into armies of small donors.
If the Conservative Party leadership, for example, was dependent upon energising its natural supporters it would not have ignored their overwhelming support for a referendum. See today's Daily Mail front page splash.
If David Cameron does accept the inquiry's recommendations – and he has previously argued it would be "unrealistic" to believe small donors could replace large donors – he will be going in the opposite direction to Stephen Harper. Canada's Conservative PM has introduced legislation which will phase out an existing $2-per-vote subsidy. He has attacked the idea that political parties should get “enormous cheques” whether “they raise money or not.”
> Later next week, on MajorityConservatism.com, I'll be making the case for Conservative HQ to make much greater use of the internet in fundraising.