Is state funding of parties the answer?
Both the main parties are attacking each other on the sources of their funding; Labour attacking the Conservatives on Lord Ashcroft and the Conservatives attacking Labour on the backing it receives from the trade unions. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats try to rise above the fray and hope that people forget they have had their own donor related problems.
So, is state funding of parties the answer? House of Twits has a poll and currently the overwhelming majority are against. This is a good thing because state-funding of parties is one of those ideas that may well sound like a good idea in theory (like open primaries) but the practice makes the idea alot worse than the status quo.
Firstly, the public would never support it; it is hard enough to get them to pay MP’s a working salary. Secondly, they would be right not to support it; is it really fair as a Labour member that I pay money that could end-up funding a Conservative campaign? Thirdly, making parties part of the state apparatus in any way is a horrible, horrible idea that cuts against everything democracy should be about and actually impinges the neutrality of the state apparatus which although it maybe sometimes theoretical is still crucial to a functioning representative democracy.
The first thing that has to be accepted is that this will always be a problem to a greater or lesser degree; politics costs money; like pretty much everything in our rarified capitalist society and since that is the case money will always carry influence. Measures exist which could reduce the role of money in politics like donation caps but they have to be two-sided so there has to be action to reduce the actual cost of politics too. They also have to be enacted in a way that does not discriminate in any way (ie, benefit companies and wealthy individuals and disadvantage trade unions) and also that is not counterproductive. No easy answers exist to this question and we should beware any solutions which promise a ‘quick fix’ like state-funding.