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.