Taxpayer Funding of Political Parties Is an Investment in Democracy

The American political system: is it (a) Plutocracy (b) Oligarchy or (c) Democracy? An objective observer from outer space not subjected to the propaganda spouted by mainstream media will, I believe, conclude that it is a tossup between Plutocracy and Oligarchy but certainly not Democracy. Come to think of it, anyone with an open mind consulting a dictionary would come to the same conclusion. Before you say this is obvious, may I remind readers of the words of George Orwell who said: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

Where America leads, Britain is sure to follow. If British politics is not reformed, and money is allowed to exercise its power uncontrolled, then the American system will be our destiny to the detriment of the lives of the vast majority of the population.

People are disgusted with the influence exercised by an unscrupulous rich elite, that is able to bend politicians and policies to its will using its wealth. Powerful corporations and lobbying groups reinforce the stranglehold on political life, freezing out the ordinary voter, and adding to the sense of apathy and disenchantment with politicians and politics generally.

As a first step on the ladder of reforms must come the issue of funding of political parties. Currently, there is no limit to the amount private donors, corporations and unions can contribute. In the way of reform, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party suggested a cap on private donations of £50,000, and £5,000 respectively.

All the major parties take the view that the electorate will not support state funding. Something tells me that this view is based more on self-interest and wishful thinking than on reality. Let the debate begin in earnest and we will see.

A cap on private donations of even £5,000 is still far too high, with those able to afford such a donation having more influence on parties and their policies than those who can afford substantially lower sums.

The Committee for Standards in Public Life has recommended state funding of political parties, and estimates the cost at £23m, a modest sum compared to the hundreds of billions of pounds used to rescue the banks. However, whereas the committee suggests a cap on private donations of £10,000, I suggest £100.

This will energize smaller parties as large numbers of people will feel their donations could make a difference. Currently the money raised by the major parties through rich donors and trade unions totally dwarfs what smaller parties can raise. For the sake of true democracy let us put a stop to that.

Politicians will have to work harder to earn the trust of the people to secure additional private funding. It will also open up the debate by bringing fresh ideas into the public domain, beyond the confines imposed by the elite and the “moneymen”.

We need only look across the Atlantic to the US to see the corrosive immoral use of money in politics. Members of Congress, with some exceptions, are so beholden to those who provide funds for their election campaigns that they have become no more than servants for the corrupted elite, faithfully following their masters’ instructions when they exercise their votes and in the policies they enact.

I am not naïve enough to believe that it is possible to have a society where everyone will have exactly the same influence on politicians and policies. The wealthy and well-connected will always have more influence. It is, however, a matter of degree, and the distortions reached in the US are extreme enough to render the term democracy inapplicable.

One of the best investments taxpayers could make is to fund political parties. Such a system, if designed fairly, would also open up politics beyond the iron grip of the three main parties in Britain and would reinvigorate democracy and people’s engagement with politics.

Adnan Al-Daini (PhD, Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Read other articles by Adnan.