Leading Article: Three cheers for Neill, with a caveat

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The Independent Culture
HOW SHOULD we pay for our politics? This is an important question. Money and politics have long had to live together in a mostly unhappy marriage. Ideally they would get divorced. But, sadly, politics could not survive without money (even though money can get along quite nicely without politics). So they - and we - are lumbered with a difficult relationship. Lord Neill and his committee have done an excellent job in finding a better way for money and politics to live together. He is right to want far more transparency in donations, right to wish to end most foreign donations, and right to eschew state funding.

But the best of all of the 100 recommendations in Lord Neill's report is the cap on national party spending. A century after some of the worst excesses of constituency campaigning were curbed by statute, we have at last got around to regulating the parties' national spending. The "arms race" of election expenditure was the biggest single explanation of why party treasurers went hell for leather, bent rules and developed blind eyes in the desperate search for funds to keep up with the other lot.

The cap on national spending at pounds 20m per party is rather less than each of the main parties managed to spend at the last election. The cut may be no bad thing if it forces them to focus on the quality of their advertising rather than its quantity.

Having now examined the sources of party funds, the Neill Committee could usefully begin to look at their application. In particular the whole question of political advertising on television may become urgent as we enter the digital age. A ban on paid political advertisements is fine for the moment. But technology may make this - and party political broadcasts - obsolete. Plenty yet to keep Lord Neill busy.

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