It’s been a difficult deciding which story to talk about this dark Sunday evening. It could be Alan Hansen being paid 1.5 million a year to say “when you’re talking about” over and over again. It could be the average 49% pay increases for FTSE 100 directors last year. I thought about writing about that one, but I decided that it would be kicking into an open goal. I’m sure my devoted readers can perfectly imagine what I would say about that. Leaving aside the violently abusive and profane descriptions of the captains of industry I normally indulge in, I would have thought that they would have had the good sense not to do things like that for a few years. It is very provocative and I’m sure they don’t really need the money. Even Conservative Home is leading with an article saying it’s a bit daft so I’ll leave it at that, for now anyway……
What I am actually going to talk about is Nick Clegg’s proposals for state funding of political parties, a subject once again on the agenda. In the proposals parties will receive £3 for every vote at the general election to compensate for the projected loss of income when the donations cap of £50,000 kicks in. Which naturally hurts the Labour Party the most, with its heavy reliance on union money (rather sad it was never reflected in Labour policy though……) but will also affect the Tories until they find some way around it. Which they will. Inevitably. Clegg and the Lib Dems are rather keen on the whole wheeze as they would benefit most from money allocated on the share of the vote and they don’t have union or significant business backing.
Personally the idea of state funding of political parties horrifies me.
The idea has gained significant traction in recent years as party membership as plummeted, although election costs haven’t. Parties need new sources of income and the state is the obvious solution, is it not? Far better that than look at why no one joins political parties any more.
It couldn’t be that you can’t get a cigarette paper between them ideologically?
It couldn’t be that they are all wedded to a completely discredited neoliberal dogma that obviously only benefits only a handful of people at the top?
It couldn’t be that they break all of their promises when they get elected? (Take a bow Mr Clegg.)
It couldn’t be that when they get elected they feel empowered to pursue a cuts agenda that they were silent about during the election campaign?
It couldn’t be that their MPs were caught with their hands in the till repeatedly and are still at it, despite being massively overpaid?
It couldn’t be that they have spent the last couple of decades prostrating themselves before a crypto-fascist media mogul and pandering to his every ideological whim?
It couldn’t be that all the major political parties treat their members as the enemy and systematically disregard their feelings and opinions and just blithely pursue the establishment’s agenda?
It couldn’t be that none of the major political parties have any democratic structures to hold their leaders to account and their annual conferences are stage-managed, content free rallies where nothing gets debated properly and any dissent is ruthlessly squashed? Or that if a vote does occasionally go against the party leadership it is ignored? (Step forward Labour conference after Labour Conference…..)
Obviously it couldn’t possibly be any of those things.
Without wishing to romanticise the past, turnout and party membership was higher when there were serious ideological debates taking place within our democracy and the political parties were clearly differentiated. In a period of ideological homogeneity, when politics has been reduced to a debate over who can manage the free market the best, is it really a surprise that no one is listening anymore?
State funding of political parties is a ludicrous and dangerous idea. It gives the parties an excuse to continue on their current course and it also institutionalises the dominance of the Big Three. It removes the influence of the unions, the only mass democratic organisations in Britain. It makes parties part of the state apparatus and even more a part of the establishment, and when a party and a state’s interests and identity begin to coalesce you are into very dangerous waters. It will increase the ‘professionalistion’ of politics (I mean that in the pejorative sense by the way, if it wasn’t clear) and the creation of bland, automaton politicians that believe nothing and will say anything. Political parties, like organised religion, should be entirely separate from the state and not mutually dependent.
If one or all of the mainstream political parties goes bust then that is just tough shit. We’ll survive.
If parties are suffering from a funding crisis then the solution is obvious. Make them worth joining.
Anything else is a cop-out, and will only serve to extend the mass disillusionment with politics.
Think again Mr Clegg.