Capping donations is gesture politics….
The influence of money, its undemocratic sway, is a source of constant political angst to the political classes. In a representative democracy, it is key they are seen as representing the people in at least a theoretically equitable way. If they are not, then the system begins to decay. So, it is constantly mooted that measures be taken to restrict its influence. The Guardian, yesterday, reported on a perennial favourite, the proposal to cap donations to political parties.
This is something I never see happening, for Labour it complicates the union relationship and for the Conservatives it also potentially chokes their main source of income from wealthy big business backers. So, nobody has a real interest in driving it forward and if one side uses it disproportionately to weaken the other, the other side won’t comply on the grounds of it being used as a political weapon. The Liberal Democrats have had their wealthy backers in their time as well, so there is a happy accord of vested interest.
Having said all that, I regard the measure, on its own as gesture politics. It would be relatively easy for Labour to surmount the union problem by simply making levy-payers members and their levy a membership fee. This would have welcome positive implications for Party democracy as well. However, this proves the point that even with a cap in place, its circumnavigation is relatively easy. America operates donation caps, is anybody seriously telling me money has less influence on American politics?
The reason it has no impact is because of the cost of campaigning in a representative politics. For a cap to be meaningful and fair therefore, measures need to be in place to curtail that cost, like the provision of free advertising space, and mail shoots, and a certain amount of literature per candidate. I am against taxpayers money funding political parties directly (mostly because there is no way to regulate what they spent it on, and principally its unfair we should be forced to give money to parties we don’t support). However, state money being spent on equitable provision of this material is slightly different, ad space could be provided free,for example, merely by instructing the supplier they have no choice around election time.
I know some people wont like this gross infringement on a capitalist’s right to profit from our democratic process, but what can I say? Democracy to me is priceless, and that is the way it should be, so, rather than more gesture politics, we need some real, meaningful change that will free our politics from the grip of money.