Scorched earth and buying elections

Yesterday was another day that captured the mood of a broken Parliament and a government in steep decline.

Jack Straw was the main performer. He is one of the few government Ministers that takes Parliament seriously, and does understand the need to respond to the debate. Yesterday he laboured under two severe handicaps. His bad cough made it difficult for him to speak. The government he serves had decided to do a U turn and accept left wing amendments to the bill on political parties and funding which were partisan. He came across as a respresentative of an administration in collapse, desperately trying to mend its fences with its left wing, realising it did not have much other support.

It was an excellent day for the left. Two independent schools fell foul of Labour’s legislaiton on charitable status, whilst their government was busily trying to stop some rich Conservative donors from continuing to fund their party through new law. Those are the kind of things some Labour MPs love doing. The days of Labour being the party of rich donors seem long gone, a bad nightmare for the left and a golden age for the Ministers who enjoyed spending the money when they had it.

As Jack Straw himself pointed out, we had two parallel debates. One was conducted mainly between lawyers, about how practical it is to define who can and cannot donate. If you move away from the easily understood and relatively easily checked proposition that anyone registered to vote in the UK can also donate in the UK, how fair and how easy to police will it be? The other brought out the tribal partisans. Gordon Prentice rent the atmosphere of civilised debate by saying he wanted to stop people being able to buy elections.

I asked him how they could do that. There was no answer. I pointed out that even if the Conservatives had been allowed millions more from rich donors in 1997 and been allowed to spend it, they would still have lost. If Labour had been able to raise and spend large extra sums this year on the European eleciton, they would still have lost by a country mile.

Some Labour MPs think that if they could just stop the Conservative propsective candidate in their marginal seat from spending anything on leaflets and communications, they will hold on. They after all have their £10,000 taxpayer funded Communicaitons allowance each year which they can spend on leaflets telling people what they are doing.

They want state funded politics, because at the moment they have a majority and can write the rules. They have more incumbents so they want to help incumbents. They might find such a system is not so much fun in opposition. That leaves aside the question of if a rich person can really buy an election, can a Trade Union also buy one? Is that any more acceptable? If you think elections can be bought, you must have a very low opinion of electors.

Click here to read John’s contributions to the Political Parties and Elections Bill debate.

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31 Comments

  1. Javelin
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Well McDooms problem is he is unlucky. You cant buy luck, but you can make it. I have a degree in psychology and have settled on the simple view that he is a spiteful man who overcomes his spite with considerable mental effort. New labour need a new leader not new money to support Gordon.

    • Adrian Peirson
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Given the Baxter Scandal in which someone mixed Live avian Flu with Live Human flu and almost triggered Global Armageddon by shipping it to 18 European countries ready for putting into our Vaccines,
      From a Psychiatric perspective I’d like to know as quickly as possible, How does he compare with Stalin.

  2. Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Two independent schools fell foul of Labour’s legislation on charitable status …

    This has taken a long time to come through the system. Labour spite will have an effect on more than schools.

    Bear in mind that groups such as Common Purpose hide behind the same Charitable rules (and may have problems with -ed)the same Charitable rules. However, the Charity Commission, as yet, doesn’t seem to be applying these rules evenly.

    Bear in mind that other very reputable Charities eg (named medical research organisation)(could have problems with? ed)these rules due to the manner in which they publish the results of the research that their activities generate.

    Reply: I do not know of any problems with the charities mentioned here.

    • Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      The Head of the Charity Commission was on Today this morning. The fact, you will be pleased to hear, that she is a member of the Labour Party has absolutely no relevance to her Commission’s decision to curb Public Schools’ Charitable Status.
      Well, that’s a relief!

      • Adrian Peirson
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        Pure Coincidence I’m sure.

  3. Colin D.
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    “If you think elections can be bought, you must have a very low opinion of electors”
    Sadly, elections CAN be bought and the voters are adopting a common sense approach. Consider those in the new public service jobs created by Labour, consider those living on state handouts with no incentive to seek work, consider whole regions of England which get more than their fair share of state money…these votes have been ‘bought’ and if you are the recipient of state largesse, you are daft not to vote Labour and maintain the status quo.

    On the subject of charitable status for independent schools, this government has a very flexible approach to the word ‘fair’. These parents pay the fees, they subsidise the state for school places they do not take up, and now they get clobbered to fund places in independent schools for ‘poor’ pupils. Having kicked away the ladder to excellence that the old grammar schools provided, Labour has the cheek to demand that the ladder be reinstated by the independent schools.

  4. alan jutson
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    How sad that with all of our Country’s problems, we have come to this state of affairs, with bickering over ideals.

    Suggest that no Party is allowed funding by anyone else other than its individual Members (if they wish to join).

    Block membership (trade unions style, commercial Companies) not allowed.

    Probably best to put a maximum value on any contribution as well, unless you just allow the membership fee to be regarded as the donation.

    Yes its simplistic, yes its financial suicide with the way all Parties at the moment spend money, but it may concentrate the minds of some, until they start to realise we want proper well thought out policies which will really move us all forward, and not just forever spin and lies.

    No you cannot buy an election unless you have bought the people, and that is just what Gordon has been trying to do in the last 12 years, by making more than half of the people reliant on the State for their income.

    Beware he is nearly there !!!!!!!

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Just been sent the following “e” mail.

      What have we learnt in two millennia ?

      The Budget should be balanced.
      The Treasury should be refilled.
      Public debt should be reduced.
      The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled.
      The assistance to Foriegn lands should be curtailed.
      Lest Rome become bankrupt.
      People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.

      Cicero 55BC

      If accurate, it just about sums it up !!!!!

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    JR: “…you must have a very low opinion of electors.”

    A perfect description of Labour’s attitude.

  6. Mick Anderson
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Simple rules are better than complicated rules, unless you happen to be a lawyer. How many lawyers remain in the Cabinet?

    I seem to remember that Labour wriggle around the maximum donation declaration rule by saying that the large donations from the Unions come piecemeal from the individual members.

    Buying elections (or buying access to Parliament, as one particularly loud and annoying Labour MP puts it) is a nonsense, in practical terms. However, individual MPs might be influenced by the money provided by a sponsor (assuming the Whips don’t lean on them first).

    Perhaps the only rules we need are an open-book policy for all donations (no matter how small), and for all donations to come from individuals on the UK electoral roll and companies registered at Companies House. I’m not even sure that we need a cap on an individual donors generosity, although I’m not averse to one.

    I’ve never been convinced about fee-charging schools being registered as charities. Presumably the rules defining what is a genuine charity are as woolly and loop-hole riddled as we’ve come to expect. I would suggest that these schools were put into their own financial clause, one that better suits what they do, but that would just make them an easier target for the left wing.

  7. Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I am not very well off and what little I give to Charity is, I am afraid, already spoken for. Since taxation is at record levels, I suspect that many other people are in the same position.
    Which means, of course, that we are not supporting our political ideas with our money.
    Which, again, means that the three Parties obey their paymasters who seem to be either the very well off or else the Trades Unions.
    Once again, the professional politicians are divorced from their electorate, since he who pays the piper…..
    And so idiotic laws are passed once again.

  8. Donald Hoyle
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    A bit off message but ‘Common Purpose’ seems to be popping up, again. Is it a threat (in the sense that it is training Europe’s future gauleiters)?

  9. no one
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    yes voters can be bought, if you own the newspapers and some TV channels you do have power over the way their thought processes go

    yes voters can be bought, if youre in the 3rd gerneration of living on state handouts in a nice house happily having kids without a thought about how you will pay for them you will vote in certain ways

    on the other hand i do think the education system stinks, the poor schools are getting worse, and the eilitism and favourtism to the public shools folk is going too far, needs a real radical rethink

    i hate the way ive been over taxed all my life and its only getting worse, there is no justice in this country for the decent hardworking folk, and that is the first thing that needs to change, we get rubbish schools, rubbish GPs, rubbish hospitals

    things need to change

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Yes take your point about lots of rubbish services.

      All at high cost.

      Even the rubbish only gets collected once a fortnight now in some areas, our rented holiday cottage in Devon last week being in one such an area.

      Raw food waste sits and rots in bins for up to two weeks, a feast for flies, a breeding ground for maggots, a possible health hazard, leaving a stench in the air.

      They (Government, Local Authorities) call it progress.
      But most of us would say that we are going backwards in so many ways.
      We will soon need to develop eyes in the back of our heads, or have wing mirrors on our glasses such is the speed of decline.

      How far do we have to decline until some sensible Politician sees the light of commonsense.

  10. Acorn
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Good speech JR, you could smell the bile oozing out of the Labour lobby fodder.

    Please could you give brief reply on the meaning of the following from Hansard:-

    “Mr. Deputy Speaker: I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendment 33. If the House agrees to that amendment, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.”

  11. Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Labour face destruction as their client state and benefit voters realise they can no longer afford heating and a brand new HD 100″ screen home cinema and the food bucket!

  12. Posted July 14, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    It is easier to find a virgin in a brothel than find logic in Labour.

  13. Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Our private schools this country are unique in providing the best possible benchmark for any government to work towards in setting well rounded state sponsored educational standards. Many British private schools are rightly regarded as being the best in the world. Instead of the gap closing between these during the twelve years of this Labour government however, it has widened while internationally our state school performance has fallen as compared with other countries.

    Yesterday we saw Labour’s malevolent response to their self inflicted failures in this respect – to seek to disable the private sector’s funding. So much for ‘education! education! education! and the fulfillment of a majority of the people’s aspirations for the futures of their children under this now completely discredited government.

    Surely there is a powerful message for the Conservative party to deliver here, come the next election?

    • Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Something positive: I have a friend who works for a major Public School. She is currently in the Middle East starting off a school there with the same name and the same standards. In Thailand there are a couple of English Public Schools. So there is a sort of viral expansion for when the Labour Party spitefully decides to end all competition to their disgusting Comprehensives.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        What you describe mirrors what is already happening in the business world. We have already seen tax force the likes of Yahoo, Google, Kraft, Gallaher, Proctor and Gamble Colgate-Palmolive and Experian to relocate their European head offices abroad while McDonalds are ready to follow suit. The City is also under threat as Switzerland in particular woos non Doms engaged in hedge funds, private equity and other investments.

        Similar relocations by Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse and others will be great news for RyanAir but of course they pay their taxes in Dublin.

  14. APL
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    JR: “It was an excellent day for the left. Two independent schools fell foul of Labour’s legislaiton on charitable status, ”

    Look, charitable status in now used by the Left as a) a means to give succor to their own fifth column, the Rowndtree trust, Common purpose, etc,. b) as a means to control those independent organisations that employ CS.

    The Tories would do far more damage to Labour and their minions if you simply abolished charitable status altogether.

  15. Bazman
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    If you refuse to say if you are paying tax in this country whilst making large and often secret donations to a political party, then you are trying to buy an election. No other way.

  16. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    As a general principle, all adult citizens should be entitled to participate in the government of their own country, to whatever extent they choose; while those who are not citizens of the country, and who therefore owe it no duty of allegiance, should not have any right to participate in its government.

    So as a matter of principle only British citizens should be allowed to vote in British elections and referendums. It’s unfortunate that long established concessions enabling some foreign citizens to vote in some of our elections would have to go, but it has to be done.

    It also follows that as a general rule only British citizens should be permitted to make donations to British political parties.

    Consulting the electoral register would only be a first step to determining whether a certain person was a permissible donor.

    Some of those presently on the electoral register would not in fact be permissible donors, because they are not British citizens, while ex-patriate citizens would be permissible donors even though they were not presently resident in the country and therefore were not on any electoral register.

    Whether or not they pay certain taxes in this country is immaterial; after all there are large numbers of citizens resident in this country who pay no income tax, and even more who are net recipients rather than net payers of tax money, and it was agreed long ago that this would not affect their rights as citizens.

    Just as each individual citizen votes as an individual, and not through any organisation exercising a block vote on their behalf, so too all donations to political parties should be from individuals and made entirely out their personal resources. Donations from organisations of any kind should be totally prohibited.

    Equally, any citizen should be able to discover whether another citizen is making abnormally large donations to a party, which may be giving him an abnormal degree of influence or control; so all such donations should be made public at the time they are made. The use of proxies for such donations should be totally prohibited.

    For practical purposes the definition of “abnormally large” should be written into “de minimus” rules, making it legal for a party to aggregrate small donations in cash and disregard small donations in kind, so preserving the anonymity of the donors; similar “de minimus” rules should also make it legal for a foreign citizen to, for example, put a fiver in the collection at a public meeting as a contribution towards the costs.

  17. Bill
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    You conveniently miss out the ground breaking move that will clinch Labour’s seats in the north, thanks to Harriet Harman’s proposal to end discrimination against us northerners.

    It’s a cause that you’ve never promoted on your southern based blog.

    This discrimination is at long last being recognised.

    Because I was born in the north I have been consistently overlooked on the honour’s list, didn’t get into Oxford and haven’t been offered the chairman’s job of any quango.
    Yet I pay taxes at the same rate as southerners.

    People who discriminate against northerners, or indeed make racist jokes about northerners should be subject to prosecution.
    (Sunderland residents exempt, because they deserve to be discriminated against, oh….and anyone from Yorkshire, because they’re really southerners and anyway I don’t like them much)

    I propose that Ms Harman gives me the chair of a new quango that’s close to my heart the “Blackpuddin Quality Standards and Accreditation Group” I will take this on for £400,000 per annum.

    Bill

    Corbridge
    Northumberland

    • Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      Bill – You showing a little a slight preference here. Being from Lancashire, I earnestly believe you not only have to consider the the numerous Blackpuddin consoisseurs, but the loads of tripe traditionalists as well. I am sure that after the election there would be plenty of former MPs who would apply to be a spokesperson to represent these interests.

  18. Martin
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of “Buying Elections” – isn’t the mess we are in over London Airport runways just an example of that?

    The Tories (as far as i can make out) oppose the Third Runway at LHR to try and hold marginal seats in West London(e.g. Putney). The British Chamber of Commerce reckon that blocking a Third Runway costs us one billion pounds a year. (See http://www.colinbuchanan.com/view/news/economic-impacts-of-hub-airports )

    If the Thames Estuary Airport supported by Mayor Boris looks like getting going I reckon some political party will try and wreck that.

    London area airport planning is a sorry example of the do nothing society that has lots of processes to block major infrastructure projects.

  19. Robert Eve
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    One can’t help having a low opinion of the electorate when they vote for the socialists three times in a row!

  20. no one
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    bill

    actually the discrimination against folk from the north is much more real than that

    hariet harman should be shot, but the anti discrimination legislation should be extended to prevent discrimination for regional or class based accents, which school you went to etc

    the north suffers badly under labour and sensible folk on the TV speaking for the conservatives with northern/working class accents would be able to make progress, as it is the majority of the conservative reps on TV remain public school and/or obvious southern middle class fodder

    what happened to daves great cry to hear from a wider section of the community that wanted to stand as prospective conservative MP’s – how many folk who genuinely are the 1st generation to escape working class routes made it?

    i actually think one of the most offensive things that consecutive governments have done is allow ongoing poor schools to survive, and to allow poor kids on bad estates no possible escape route through education

    since you mention sunderland you only have to look at pennywell school, it was terrible 30 odd years ago, and its still appauling, how such a school is allowed to open its doorts in a 21st century western democracy is beyond me

    and hence we are driving outselves to dust

  21. Freddy
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    More “leaks” about tomorrow’s energy paper :
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/12/fuel-social-tariff-energy-bills

    Green power is going to be hideously more expensive than efficient power, a horribly regressive tax on the population. So the twerp Milliband is going to charge affluent families more, calling it a social tariff. Meanwhile, no action is taken on replacing our aging generating capacity.

    Even assuming Cameron doesn’t actually believe this global warming rubbish and is just paying lip service to it in order to get elected, a new Tory government will have to embark on an immediate crash program of propaganda to justify a sensible approach to the nation’s energy generation.
    Given that the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive is ging to close down our large coal-fired generators within the lifetime of the next parliament (taking out ~20% of our generating capacity), and that the nuclear plants are all on their last legs and should be closed down in the next few years, the next Government seems to face a real possibility of regular sustained power cuts. Which, I think, will not be good for its re-election prospects.

    How’s that for scorched earth ?

  22. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Never mind a £100 million tax hike on private schools we should bring back the assisted places scheme so that the brightest kids from poor backgrounds get a decent start in life ( of the kind that many MP’s and their offspring have enjoyed). Education ought to be about liberation & social mobility so that each generation does better than the previous one while our workforce of the future is well equipped for a competitive economy.

    Please John will the Tories abandon Michael Gove’s complex plan and just give generous school vouchers to the least well off ? Honestly the Lib Dem’s talk more sense on school choice than the Tories ! Has the world gone mad…….

    Quite simply you can easily explain the Lib Dem plan on the doorstep but Michael Gove’s is so incomprehensible that is deifies belief…

    Please John publish these comments and see about a debate in Parliament about which political party trusts parents the most to choose their child’s schooling. That too is an important issue as LEA tyranny has failed – time to trust the parents and by extension Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand !

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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