Letters: Politics cannot afford big donors

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 10 July 2013

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PDonald Macintyre is right (Voices, 9 July): state-funded political parties are the solution. There are eternal truths and this is one of them: “If a political donor gives £100,000 it’s likely that he (almost never she) wants something; if he gives you £1m it’s likely that he will demand something.”

Having founded the Labour Party’s 1,000 Club with Jon Norton, I quoted this adage to the then General Secretary, Margaret McDonough, as the reason for my resignation from the Club after Michael Levy was recruited by his tennis partner Tony Blair to concentrate on “high-level donors”.

There is a direct line to be drawn through political funding to popular disenchantment with politics and, therefore, to low turnouts at elections. A poll commissioned by the BBC some years ago to canvass public opinion on political funding revealed a  paradox: it found that 87 per cent of people were concerned about the potentially corrupting effects of fund-raising yet 68 per cent did not want state funding.

Most of our European neighbours have state funding and so do we, in the form of “Short Money”, which supports opposition parties; it comes to around £6m a year and is awarded according to the support generated by each party.

Echoing the principle behind the 1,000 Club, even the former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft has said the ideal is to raise £15m from 15 million people, not £1m each from 15 people. Now, as President Obama has almost shown, that is possible through digital media, the internet and “political crowd funding”.

We are privileged to live in a democratic regime and we should be prepared to protect its independence by paying for the maintenance and promotion of our political parties. The cost could be awarded by, say, giving each party a fixed sum, say £1, for every vote recorded in a general election. We should combine that with limiting the contribution by any individual to, say, £1,000.     

State funding could be supplemented by small-donor funding, now that internet and digital media have combined to make that funding much easier. Small-donor funding not only inhibits corruption, it also forces the political parties to take notice of their supporters. It should be encouraged and it might make sense for such funding to be tax-deductible.

Brian Basham, Crowhurst, East Sussex


In his column on 8 July Owen Jones wrote: “Parliament has increasingly become the preserve of well-connected Westminster insiders, while the barriers to anyone with a vaguely normal background have become ever more insurmountable”.

This moves me to suggest that no one should be allowed to stand for Parliament who has held a House of Commons library pass during the immediately preceding five years. This would break the gravy-train route of Oxbridge, internship, researcher or assistant to an MP, party list, and finally party-supported “parachuting” into a safe seat.

Radical though this suggestion may be, it or something similar may be the only way to ensure that MPs have at least some experience of “real life”.

J Russell, Church Crookham, Hampshire


So are Tories ready to put up with torture?

The Government should be patting itself on the back that it followed a lawful, albeit long drawn-out process to have Abu Qatada Othman deported to face justice in Jordan. 

Instead, and to avoid such silly inconveniences, we have remarks from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, that the Tory party will advocate withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights. Does this suggest that he and his neo-conservative colleagues are now content to have suspects tried and convicted on the basis of evidence obtained under torture? I think we should be told.

Peter Coghlan, Broadstone, Dorset


It is depressing that some politicians are using the Abu Qatada case to denigrate our system for protecting human rights, when we should be thankful that it has shown the high value it places on justice and acceptance that use of evidence procured by torture is a denial of justice.

In forcing a reluctant government to achieve its objective of deportation consistently with upholding this value, the system works exactly as it should. One would have thought that a Secretary of State who holds the brief for justice would praise and defend it against critics who complain that it makes it more difficult for governments to take executive action that they deem most convenient. Shockingly, he has done the opposite.

John Eekelaar, Oxford


Too busy to talk to the likes of me

I am an 18-year-old sixth-form student with a part-time job at a well-known fast-food chain and would like to point out to disgruntled customers (letters, 6 July) that while they are able to leave the shop after dealing with “sloppy” checkout operators, the staff cannot leave after a sloppy customer and must be smiling again regardless every time they say: “Next please.”

My personal favourites are the customers who are too important to reply to a “Hello, how are you?” or, God forbid, actually place the money into your hand. It would seem to some that jangling the keys to a Mercedes and talking business loudly on the phone is more likely to make me hurry than actually having a conversation with me. 

I am lucky enough to be giving up my job for university in September, but I would ask those who are quick to tut or sigh to spare a thought next time you’re at a till for the people who do not have that luxury. These people are paid a minimum wage to do difficult and demanding jobs, only to receive little or no thanks from a saddening number of the general public.

Isaac Atwal, Wolverhampton


Humphrys punch misses target

I stopped listening to the Today programme years ago because I found John Humphrys’ hectoring of interviewees distasteful and unproductive (“BBC heavyweights told to stop beating up interviewees”, 4 July). The occasional coup he and others like him deliver is far outweighed by the many missed opportunities for interesting and informative discussion because of obsessive pursuit of a single storyline and the killer thrust.

More to the point, this approach to interviewing has proved counterproductive in terms of providing useful information to the public. Interviewees, especially politicians, are now coached to repel questions rather than answer them, so the public comes out none the wiser.

The public’s engagement with politicians tends to be only via the media these days, and the hectoring and negative approach to interviewing, and the stonewall replies, have contributed to the public’s growing disenchantment with politics.

In addition, I am willing to bet that the pool of potential interviewees is much reduced, as people take the view that they do not need to put themselves through such an experience. We are left the poorer in terms of discussion and knowledge.

Ken Kemp, Durham


Gove nostalgia is an English disease

The headline on your first leading article (9 July) makes a mistake. It is not “Britain’s” teachers who are in dispute with the dreadful Gove. Luckily, the children of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are spared the ridiculous excesses of this egotistical and ambitious person. That being said, I fear for the future of English children, having to grow up with the effects of his narrow, blinkered and inaccurately nostalgic approach to education.

But then, despite the protestations of Cameron and Gove, these reforms will not affect all English schoolchildren. Those being forced into the Tories’ pet academies and free schools are to be spared the pre-decimal and nonsensical demands of the new curriculum.

I can only assume this is a ploy to persuade more schools to apply for academy status.

Steve Clarke, Portree, Isle of Skye


Here is a suggestion Matthew Norman missed (“Michael Gove, the Pol Pot of education”, 3 July), combining education, heath and climate-change benefits. Sell off school playing fields, but fund the introduction of treadmills so pupils can be taught while keeping fit and generating electricity.

Bob Kindred, Ipswich


The memory of a son who died

I was much moved by Paul Clabburn’s article on the sudden death of his teenage son (9 July). Some 25 years ago, my 30-year-old son, Michael, died because of a brain tumour. I still think of him often and your article is but one trigger to my memory.

The young Rabbi who conducted his funeral put it very succinctly when he said that in the scheme of things we are supposed to bury our parents, not our children. Mr Clabburn should know that the memories will get easier, if no less frequent.

Robert L Bratman, Llwydcoed, Aberdare


Silly over Murray

I remember football grounds in London where I watched matches in the Seventies and early Eighties.The cries of “We won the cup” lasted there for 20 years. We are reliably poor at sport and respond to the eccentricity of the England side then and Andy Murray now, by getting silly about them. A generation of bores has been equipped for the foreseeable future.

Edward Pearce, Thormanby, York


All in a row

British rowers raised their sport to unprecedented public awareness by their Olympic triumphs. Since then they’ve been ignored, with The Independent a notable offender. We’ve had the usual mega-coverage of Ascot, Epsom and Wimbledon. Yet the world’s top rowers yearn to compete at Henley Royal Regatta. So how about a teensy bit of coverage of  this unique British sporting event next year?

Richard Humble, Exeter


Sound idea

Are there not sufficient channels now to offer Wimbledon with the sounds that one would hear court-side but without the inane commentary?

Mike Brayshaw, Worthing


Art and nature

The Inverdale-Bartoli affair highlights just how far-fetched Alan Partridge is as a comedy character. Quite remarkable!

Angelo Micciche, St Erth, Cornwall


Boris gaffe

Boris Johnson seems to be accusing women who go to university of putting the heart before the course.

Nick Pritchard, Southampton