Is state funding of parties the answer?
I know this is about 2 days too late but I have to confess my eye was caught by the comments from Caroline Lucas made at the Green Party Conference. Let’s be honest; she isn’t wrong that politics is a) costly and b) too costly for smaller parties to make an impact. We should all know this as Liberal Democrats because we are not exactly and in nowhere near the same position as Labour and the Conservatives when it comes to financial clout; so our sympathies should naturally extend to the likes of the Greens on this issue because if we are not in the same boat then, on this at least, we are at least swimming in the same sea. Like the Greens we lack an obvious social font of donations; we have no trade unions behind us nor vested business interests which is a plus but also can be, of course, a staggering minus.
Lucas brought up our less-than-proportional electoral system rightly but I am a little more circumspect about her complaint that;
“It is absolutely outrageous that there is not a system of state funding in the UK.”
I am not a huge fan of the idea of state funding of parties purely because something in me objects to the thought of taxpayers all having to pay their own, non-voluntary, political levy and to be blunt I don’t want my tax dollars funding parties which I fundamentally disagree with. I see the way to address this problem as being more on the supply-side; in that the cost of political communication should be radically reduced as much as possible thus reducing the need for big amounts to be raised; I am also in favour of a donation cap as is our stated party policy but not actual party practice.
This would hopefully force parties to actually recruit members and be more responsive to the people they want to represent; something that state funding, of course, would not oblige parties to do. So, while Lucas makes a valid point I can’t help feeling that her outrage in this case is misdirected.