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COLUMN: Price to pay over party donations
This time, it’s been the Conservatives in the frame, with allegations of seeking large donations from rich people in return for favours.
I’ve enjoyed the sport.
But I also know that my party has faced similar charges in the past.
In any event, whilst the Conservatives receive some very large gifts from businesspeople, Labour gets large amounts from the trades unions.
The Liberal Democrats are not immune from these pressures either.
The problem is that our democracy could not operate without political parties.
The parties have to be paid for, one way or another.
Despite the serious scandals which do erupt in the UK from time to time – usually hitting the party in power – British politics is, by any international comparison, (a) clean; and (b) very cheap.
The two are connected.
And British politics has over the years become cleaner, and cheaper. There’s far less tolerance, rightly, than there was.
The MPs’ expenses scandal only came out because the law insists on much greater openness.
The last US national election in 2008 (for the President and Congress) the parties spent about £3.5 billion.
The UK General Election in 2010 cost £82 million. Allowing for differences in population, that’s about a tenth of the US spend, per head.
I know of no party leader, of any party, who relishes going round to people cap in hand, seeking money.
But this will go on, with all the attendant risks, unless the public are willing to accept that some more of the low cost of our democracy should come from the taxpayer.
That’s what the Committee on Standards in Public Life under Sir Christopher Kelly has recommended – with a cap on all individual donations of £10,000.
There is already some state funding – averaging £7 million a year.
This pays for party political broadcasts, the General Election “Freepost”, and for example the special grants to Opposition parties.
Less than £1 per head each year would enable us to end the problem of “big money” in politics altogether.
But this choice truly is yours, the voter’s.