Parties would profit from a little less money

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Crisis, what crisis??, ask government ministers, as the police circle Downing Street?? over cash for peerage allegations. Crisis, what crisis? echo the Liberal democrats, as they are investigated?? for?? their biggest election donation from someone in prison for perjury facing fraud allegations.?? Crisis, what crisis? ask some Conservatives, as they look at the massive ??35 million debt on their balance sheet. </font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">The game is up for raising large sums of money from a small coterie of donors. It is not doing the parties any good, and it is not doing the donors any good any more either. Who wants to have their private affairs and emails rifled just because they decided to give some cash to their favourite political party?</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">The parties are in denial about?? big money politics. The penny hasn’t?? dropped that the public is as suspicious of how the parties spend the money,?? as they are of?? how politicians come by it. The writing has been on the wall for all prepared to read it for some eight years now. The?? statistics of the electoral decline of both major parties since the 1990s are stark. </font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Labour polled 4 million votes fewer in 2005 than in 1997, 4.5 million fewer than the Conservatives when they just won in 1992. The Tories were still more than 5 million votes adrift on 13 years earlier. Only two in five of all electors voted for the two main parties combined in 2005. Surely that should tell us all in politics that the audience doesn’t like the show, they are avoiding the political theatre in their droves.</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Polling after the election showed that the main national campaigns did more harm than good to the parties spending all that money on them. Twice as many voters?? in?? 130 Labour marginals were put off by the Labour campaign than were attracted to it. The Conservative campaign did almost as badly, with many more put off by it than wooed by it. Why should we go on taking risks with how we raise the money, if spending it puts the punters off?</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Twentieth century elections attracted many more voters to the polls. Politicians had to engage on doorsteps and in public meetings. They had to take the rough with the smooth, deal with the heckler and the opponent, recognise that they could not airbrush disagreements out of their campaign. They spent modest sums on posters and hiring halls to speak in, but did not go in for high budget PR driven programmes backed up by sophisticated computers, target marketing and voter research. Voter research was done the hard way by canvassing door to door. Candidates accepted that the media had to balance their coverage and you could not manage all the footage.</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Today some of the sharpest?? and youngest campaigners agree that we need to return to local candidates campaigning on local issues, building up just such a picture of their patch through door to door work supplemented by low budget website entries and?? leaflets. The message from the new Conservative MPs in 2005 who won with the best swings was just that we did it, they said, despite the national campaign.</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">It’s not just at election time that national parties spend their money badly. Parties now spend large sums on polling and focus groups. They tell us this is to help them with honing the message. The public thinks spinning is allied to lying. The present government tells the public what they want to hear, whatever the reality. They often fail to follow through, or find the idea does not work so they just change the words. No wonder people are so cynical about the whole process.</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Indeed it is a fatuous exercise to ask the audience what the answer is and then play it back to them. As a democrat I respect the electorate. They are the bosses. I also seek to understand what they know and what they do not know. They know what the problems are. They can tell us where the local schools are not good enough, where the transport system is inadequate, where the Council tax is too high, and where the hospital does not see you quickly enough. </font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">We should not expect them to tell us the solutions as well. It is the job of elected politicians to spend wisely on?? advice, to find the best remedies. It is the duty of parties to offer the public choice, choice about what the priorities are, and choice about the types of solution.?? The issues need to be debated openly, so the public can make up its mind. It is up to governments and alternative governments to come forward with detailed proposals that can work.</font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">Party politics is today at a low ebb, thanks to a government that has concentrated on spin and failed to deliver on all the finely worded promises. The public now wants party politicians to raise less money, and waste less, both during elections and between elections. We need a???? cap on general election expenditure. It should be ??7.5million or less rather than the ??12.5m being mooted. Individual donations should be limited to ??50,000 each. </font></font>

<font size="3"><font face="Tahoma">It would be a huge mistake to make up the shortfall by forcing extra money from the hard pressed taxpayer. It would be absurd and insulting for politicians to argue that because they cannot any longer be trusted to raise big money from a few people, they therefore should simply take?? money off everyone through the tax system. There are two answers to the money shortfall from the large donors. The first is to spend less. Spend less on market research, computers and?? fancy campaigning get back on the streets with a volunteer army.?? The second is to enrol more members . If you persuade every member to give ??10 for an election not a big ask you can have a ??7.5million campaign from just 750,000 supporters, far fewer than?? used to belong to the Conservative party. That’s still more than enough money to annoy voters if you spend it badly!</font></font>


  1. Kit
    December 20, 2006

    I agree totally except for the

  2. badly informed boy
    December 20, 2006

    Some excellent points, John.

    I notice you don't address a commonly encountered argument: "In a democracy, I am free to give as much money to whoever I choose, and they are free to spend it as they choose".

    Freedom is of course important, but it does have limits. I think there are two good reasons why the freedom to donate to and spend on party political campaigns should be restricted:

    – In a democracy, it must be votes that determine policy, and not money. If those in power are dependent for survival on a small number of huge donations, there is a risk that policy will be influenced by the interests and opinions of the donors.
    – Voters are, unfortunately, easily swayed by propaganda of all kinds. Our democracy is healthier if opinions are formed through reasoned argument, and not by whoever can spend the most on advertising.

    To pay for our currently bloated parties with public money would be an odious development. I agree that the best course is to place limits on both individual donations and total spending.

  3. Tom Ainsworth
    December 20, 2006

    Hi Jon, I'm greatly enjoying the blog. Keep it up! I am 100% behind you on the opposition to state funding, and am prepared to believe that much of the spending at the last election did more harm than good. I am not keen on limiting an individual's freedom to spend his money how he likes which is what donation caps would do, but at least people could still donate to political pressure groups (the Taxpayers' Alliance, Migration Watch, etc.) and it might be a good political move if it applied to the unions. Of course it seems pretty unlikely that Labour, since they are the ones in a position to legislate, would allow it to apply to the unions, and this leads me to my main point. Labour's stock is falling and the Conservatives are experiencing a revival. Whilst I am not a political insider, it seems that Labour will be finding it much harder than us to raise money over the next few years. They will be looking to take advantage of their majority to pass legislation that will negate their financial deficit. Politics is a game, and while it is all very well thinking of what is the right thing to do re. party funding, one shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there are far more important issues which can only be sorted out by a Conservative government. If more seats will be won by exploiting our financial advantage, we should not be advocating spending limits. Even if the money was spent badly last time, we could use it better next time, perhaps by targetting more of it locally, like Lord Ashcroft did in various marginals. Or am I being overly optimistic?

  4. jon
    December 20, 2006

    I think the percentage voting has dropped because Labour dropped everything they ever believed in to get elected and it was only sleaze that gave them such a landslide in 1997.It quickly became apparent that Labour are infinitely more corrupt so that extreme irritation turned to apathy and disillusionment.The right won the economic argument so there's no real clear blue water there (at least as far as the media leads people to believe). Although Brown is being allowed by them to get away with his debt fuelled growth phase that we'll be paying for,for years to come.

  5. James
    December 20, 2006

    Kinda like Gordon Ramsey but without the swearing. Good stuff!

  6. George Bathurst
    December 20, 2006

    Well done, John. At least one MP is prepared to stand on the side of the electorate against the cartel that has become the major parties. Quite how Conservative Central Office thinks that more government funding for them is consistent with Conservative values is beyond me. IMHO if Central Office staff had taken a month off at the last election and we'd have more MPs nows and substantially less debt. It also isnt't consistent for us to talk about devolving power and improving hospitals by cutting bureaucrats when our own Central Office is doing the opposite.

  7. Jorgen
    December 20, 2006

    Excellent article, Mr. Redwood!

    As to some of the comments above: The problem is not "limiting an individual's freedom to spend his money how he likes". It is preventing any individual from bribing a Government. Some have started calling Blair "the best PM money can buy". Limiting the amount to the 50000, you suggest, would ensure that the donation become too small to corrupt a Government. I don't know if it is necessary to put an upper limit on how much can be spent on advertising.

  8. richard
    December 20, 2006

    What's the point of campaigning on local issues? Power has been concentrated in the centre. Nobody elected locally can do anything except follow edicts from Whitehall. And most of those edicts (e.g., on waste disposal) emanate from Brussels, effectively turning Parliament into no more than a rubber stamp.

    You don't need to be the political editor of the Times or an Oxford Don to see that the British Parliament has no real power at all. If parliament had any power, maybe the party leaders might occasionally attend a debate! The uselessness of parliament shows itself in one other way, too – in the quality of those who aspire to public office. Where are the Norman Tebbits, Tony Benns, Margaret Thatchers? Instead we get nonentities like Hazel Blears or former Communist student union enforcer Jack Reid. The true heavyweights can see that parliament is to all intents and purposes irrelevant, and seek other paths.

  9. Morgan
    December 20, 2006


    Politically, you and I are miles apart; just so you know that before reading what I have to say.

    It's about time politicians started saying what you just said. I think I have only one difference with you: there should be no central General Election campaign, ever. All Elections should take place entirely at the constituency level, and only with funds raised at that same level. Debates, public meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Constituency level only. If this creates difficulties for politicians, or would-be politicians, then too bad. Nobody ever conscripted you (which leads into a whole new area of discussion …).

    Thank you

  10. Arachnaphobe
    December 21, 2006

    If you start talking honest common sense people will start listening to what you have to say. Honesty is what people are crying out for, and I (and the electorate I suspect) have had enough of spin, lies, bent statistics and, let's be honest, downright corruption. I am fed up with ethical foreign policies , policies without purpose, laws that are not enforced, Acts that frustrate the law and politicians who spout drivel on a daily basis for media headlines.

    I can forgive imperfection, but I think our tolerance to hypocrisy from the government is at an all time low. The Labour government is beyond all redemption.

    You propose some interesting and appealing ideas. I hope you get a chance to put them forward where it counts.

  11. Neil Craig
    December 22, 2006

    I agree 100%. Parties do not need enough money to pat Cherie's stylist. We already get free delivery of the elction address & party politicals (I would happily have more of the latter) & can have a TV debate whenevr the incumbent is willing (I would happily have such debates betwen the other 2 leadrs with an empty chair for refusals).

    I would reccomend this book

  12. billy
    December 23, 2006

    Dear John
    I cancelled my membership of the Conservative Party when John Major allowed a massive increase in MP's wages, pensions or expenses; I forget which.
    If the political parties were only allowed the funding supplied by people paying a membership fee to join the party you'd would have to clean up your acts and get the public involved again.

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