Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Funding and lobbying

Writing in the Independent Steve Richards ends his article on party funding thus:
"But take parties out of the picture and what is left? To avoid finding out the answer, the parties need to reach agreement on new forms of funding, quickly. The alternative is more leaders being caught out or no parties at all. Don't hold your breath agreement will be reached."
A letter, on the same subject, in today's Daily Telegraph:
"SIR – It is difficult to imagine a system in which political parties do not rely on donations. However, such funding could be democratised by capping the donation by any one individual or organisation. Perhaps a limit of £100 to bring it in line with what the average person could afford.
Political parties would, once again, have to engage with the electorate at a grassroots level and work for their money. They would need to reverse the trend of dwindling party membership and make their parties more relevant to the majority.
Political parties would, once again, have to engage with the electorate at a grassroots level and work for their money. They would need to reverse the trend of dwindling party membership and make their parties more relevant to the majority.Dr Robert ListerFarndon, Cheshire"
From the article and letter, questions arise. Parties may well need funding, but for what purpose? If a cap is to be placed on political donations, who should set that cap and at what level? How can political parties be made more relevant to the majority, whilst 'engaging with the electorate' at grass roots level? In what way can parties be made to work for their money - and not necessarily just in the field of donations?

Obviously political parties require funding to operate, ie, to cover employment costs, production of literature, manifestos, election expenses, etc; and the necessary funds can be obtained through membership fees and donations. It should however be remembered that representatives of political parties are elected based on political sympathies and ideology. If interest groups increasingly provide funding to parties, there is a risk that the parties will no longer shape their agenda according to their ideology alone, but increasingly according to the wishes of the interest groups. It must then follow that the parties and their members would consequently lose credibility as the representatives of the people. Yet another factor that it is necessary to bear in mind is that parties with a large campaign budget could become omnipresent and bombard voters with propaganda – whether on the street or through the media thus making it difficult for people to form a balanced opinion. Sound familiar? It should do because that is how the present political system in this country works where the Lib/Lab/Con are concerned and it is a system that allows them to effectively 'shut out' smaller parties from the political arena.

That lobbying of politicians is a fact of life - and a necessary ability for constituents of an MP - it becomes problematical when said lobbying is carried out by companies and/or individuals making regular, usually large, donations with a view to influencing party policy and ideology; after all, is that not what lobbying and lobbyists are aiming to do? There can, therefore, be an argument for a cap on political donations, with a currently suggested cap of £10,000 per individual per year. However, if political parties exist with the will of the electorate then logically, should it not be the electorate that decides the limit of donations? Would that not be the democratic way bearing in mind politicians are, so we are informed by them, all for democracy? With a view to transparency - another matter which politicians assure us they are in favour of - should not politicians be duty bound to make available details of all meetings with lobbyists including the reason for such meetings; and where any financial element is involved, be that even being bought drinks or a meal, all details being included in a register?

When considering the other questions, namely making political parties more relevant to the majority, while at the same time engaging with grass roots level and working harder for their money it would be necessary for a disengagement with our present system of representative democracy and a move towards direct democracy and the ideology of referism. Only when politicians are aware that they are the servants of the people; that their every decision can be challenged by the people; that the people can force politicians to implement laws, laws which they may not wish to implement; that their personal positions as MPs can be terminated at the wish of their electorate between elections - only then, it is suggested, will our politicians become more relevant to the majority; only then will an attempt be made by them to engage with 'grass roots levels; and only then will they be forced to work harder for their money.

Regular readers will know that when discussing any adoption of direct democracy I often proffer Switzerland as an example. Extraordinarily, of all countries, political donations do not need to be declared in Switzerland. According to critics, however, this lack of transparency is a problem, because dubious people and institutions could be making donations to political parties. Critics are also asking how independent political parties actually are as the more intensive the election campaign, the more it will cost and these costs need to be covered. If parties become increasingly dependent on interest groups, this could be problematic and critics claim that this dependence could lead to bribery or corruption. Most Swiss cantons do not require the disclosure of political donations, however since 1998 and 1999 respectively, the cantons of Ticino and Geneva have had legislation governing the disclosure of political donations. The canton of Ticino requires parties to report donations of over CHF 10,000 to the cantonal chancellery. The amount of the donation and details of the donor must be given. In the canton of Geneva, political parties are required to submit their accounts and the names of their sponsors every year to the cantonal financial inspectors. 

The Swiss Federal Council has, in the past, dealt with several calls for increased transparency in the funding of political parties, including the motion by social democrat Max Chopard proposing "Increased transparency in the funding of political parties". It has rejected* the demand for statutory regulation and advocated voluntary measures, on the grounds that there are many open issues regarding implementation, enforcement, enforceability and sanctioning options. In addition, pressure from the state could make people less willing to become involved in political matters, and it is precisely from this willingness that direct democracy draws life.

Just a few thoughts for discussion..............

* The opinion is only available in German, French or Italian - however if using Google, the translation is quite good.


TomTom said...

Manifestos ? Haven't seen one for years. Post it as a Website. As for advertising - BAN Bildboard Advertising - it is pollution.

Ban any Advertising firm that has worked for Government from working on Elections - no more cross-subsidisation

WitteringsfromWitney said...

TT: Spot on!