The timing of Labour’s announcement that it will reform the funding system for political parties could not be more unfortunate. As the GMB union slashes its “automatic” donations, and with others expected to follow suit, it will be widely interpreted as a desperate attempt to shore up the party’s finances.
As one reader quite rightly pointed out yesterday, the money spent on an election campaign does not alter the quality of a party’s manifesto which, after all, should be the main selling point. But it does affect the ability to convey that manifesto to the public. It shouldn’t make too great a difference to the major parties, which dominate media coverage, but independent candidates face a much harder battle to get their message heard.
In the general election of 2010, no single party reached the £19.5m spending cap set by the Electoral Commission, but a total of £31.5m was spent on campaigning. The Tories laid claim to more than half with £16.7m, Labour spent £8m and the Lib Dems £4.8m. But politics shouldn’t be about who can shout the loudest, it should be about whose ideas and principles concur most with the electorate.
This is not the first time that the funding issue has reared its head. Previous efforts have relied on parties agreeing on a limit by consensus and, surprise, surprise, nothing has been agreed.
Creating a more level playing field, whether by introducing state funding or lowering the spending limit, will make politics more accessible. Then there’s a chance that those elected to office may even be in touch with real life.