Money, politics and how to miss the point…..
Reformers of various hues are all-a-twitter about the possibility that Ed Miliband will support a cap on individual donations to political parties. Leaving aside the implications for the trade union link which are fundamentally undemocratic and an assault on this Party’s heritage, the problem with this is once again our glorious leader is supporting a reform that will result in the substantive total of nothing; indeed, there more than a little truth to charges made by our opponents that these reforms are ‘presentational’.
The problem is this; capping donations does not, I repeat, does not, reduce the power of money in politics in any way, shape or form. You need only look ‘across the pond’ to the good ol’ US of A to prove that point. In North America a complex system of caps and regulations exist when it comes to campaign spending (helpfully laid out here) but is anybody seriously going to come on this blog and tell me money matters less in US politics? Indeed, things like primaries (with there vast demand of campaigning resources) actually afford money more power if anything as opposed to less.
Here is one of the problems with capping donations; if you don’t tackle the actual costs of campaigning you can cap away all you like. All you may well succeed in doing is driving some parties out of business and thus * further emasculation* of democracy by denying their supporters a voice. This gives us a clue as to where the problem lies and that is the very foundations and structures of a representative democracy. Campaigning to represent people will invariably cost a bomb in a commodity driven system, especially when there is no accompanying regulation of the price of things, because you will be expected during the course of a campaign to make some form of contact with a handsome amount of those people you wish to represent to be successful.
This is why open primaries make matters worse because by increasing the size of the so-called ‘electoral universe’ you increase the costs of campaigning within it. Open primaries are therefore anti-democratic and exclusionary to those on lower incomes and means especially. They also hamper the growth of minority trends, not encourage them to flourish; this is apart from the very prospect they can be manipulated much more easily in an undemocratic way.
Caps are therefore wrong as a point of democratic principle. If there were measures alongside them to reduce the costs of campaigning then this would make them slightly more palatable but even then the fundamental truth would not be altered that money will always have substantial power in politics while we live in the kind of society we do. The implication of caps; that they can make politics somehow cleaner is totally bogus hokum. It’s simply an illusion to conceal the real roots of the problem.
If we want to undermine the power of money within politics there is little that can be done short of moving away from the entire notion that representative democracy is the highest form of democracy. It isn’t. It’s the farthest we have got so far along the democratic path but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a long road ahead. Pretending to people that donation caps solve anything is fundamentally a lie and that is another good reason amoung many to oppose Mr Miliband’s suggestions.