Friday, October 24, 2008


Public Funding for Parties Answer to 'Mandelson's Law'?

Martin Kettle today, argues 'Corfugate' embodies an important message. Given that party memberships have shrunk to the size of Church of England congregations, parties have had to go cap in hand to some pretty unwholesome characters, and not just the Tories, one has to allow. Kettle suggests that suspicion over party funding will follow politicians like a bad smell while the present situation obtains:

British politicians, ministers included, must assume that the pack will always be out to get them over their private life. The company they keep, the places they go, the things they like to do - in the US the state of their health and tax returns - are never off-limits for a second. This particularly applies to politicians who love both privacy and publicity alike. It's an unenviable reality. Call this Mandelson's Law.

His solution? Government funding for parties.

We've heard it all before but no reason not to exhume this hoary old suggestion- it may now have more relevance and resonance. However, with politicians in such low esteem can we believe taxpayers will accept such a distribution of public money? Moreover, wherever public funding has been introduced, politicians have done their best to evade any strictures applied in order to gain advantage. I can see those US style 'independent' bodies being set up over here during election campaigns to ostensibly exercise the right of free speech but in reality to grind party political axes.

Simon Jenkins, that doyen of commentators, has argued fiercely against the idea of taxpayer funded parties, insisting that they should seize upon the need to raise money as ther growth point of a renaissance for popular political involvement. But is this likely? possible? We need parties to make democracy work- maybe the time is approaching when we should accept the financial cost of making democracy work, and resolve to overcome the inevitable shortcomings of such a system.

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