Editorial: When the parties defy the people

The coalition's promise to hold 200 primaries in safe seats has been quietly shelved

Share
Related Topics

Just as the talks about new rules on the funding of political parties broke down last week, the murky business in Falkirk reminded us why reform was so necessary. The two largest parties in this country are hollowed-out, broken-down shells, in which the selection of candidates to be MPs is open to manipulation, and the funding of which means conflicts of interest are inevitable. It is no wonder that politics, held in low esteem at the best of times, is now so despised.

Unfortunately, cross-party agreement on funding is in the short-term interest of neither the Conservative nor the Labour party. Despite the Prime Minister's obvious glee at Ed Miliband's discomfiture about his main union donor influencing the next intake of Labour MPs, the Tories also depend on donors who have an interest in government policy.

The Independent on Sunday has long been clear about the essentials of a new settlement. The starting point is that there should be no increase in taxpayer funding of political parties. Government parties employ special advisers, who may engage in party-political activity, on the public payroll, and other parties receive funds known as Short money (after Ted Short, the Labour leader of the House of Commons in the 1970s) to support their parliamentary activities. Asking voters to pay more for something they hold in contempt is not the best way to start to rebuild trust in politics.

The second point is that there should be a limit on the annual amount that any individual or organisation can donate to a party. This is where the party-political manoeuvring begins. Labour wants to set the limit as low as possible, because the Tories receive more money from rich individuals. The Conservatives, meanwhile, want trade-union donations to be treated as if coming from a single organisation. Labour's response has always been that the money from unions comes from the political levy paid by millions of trade unionists.

The Falkirk imbroglio offers a chance for Mr Miliband to break this impasse. He should propose a change in the law so that the political levy from trade unionists goes directly to the party concerned, rather than being granted at the say-so of the union's leadership.

But even cutting that Gordian knot would not be enough to start to repair the bond of trust in politicians. The selection of candidates needs to be broken open, as this is the tiny, constricted point of entry to the House of Commons in most seats, which are the safe property of one or other of the two large parties. One of the most disappointing retreats from democratic principle, a collusion in this case between Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, was the dropping of their promise to hold primary elections to choose candidates in safe seats. The Coalition Agreement said: "We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament, targeted at seats which have not changed hands for many years." It has been quietly shelved.

Mr Cameron is thought to believe choosing would-be MPs that way makes it impossible to maintain party discipline, having learned from his experience of Sarah Wollaston, the independent-minded Tory MP for Totnes, who was selected in an open primary before the 2010 poll. For the rest of us, Ms Wollaston is a shining example of the kind of brave, knowledgeable MP of whom we would like to see more.

This is too important an issue for Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband (and Mr Clegg) to play for what they see as their short-term advantage. The health of our democracy requires new rules to limit the buying of influence and to open up the narrow points of entry to the Commons.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power