New thinking needed on party funding

ONE of the hottest topics at the moment is, quite rightly, the method of funding of political parties. The people we claim to represent tend to possess a...

ONE of the hottest topics at the moment is, quite rightly, the method of funding of political parties.
The people we claim to represent tend to possess a dislike for politicians and political parties. Of course, this view is fuelled by the British press on the basis that critical stories sell more newspapers than good news but politicians really have to face some other facts that tend to be ignored.
The view is often expressed that politicians should be independent rather than accepting the party whip and there is evidence of this in recent elections with the success of independents over party representatives in many areas.
It is an appealing thought to many politicians too but if we wish to look at practical ways of improving the system it is more realistic to accept that the political parties are here to stay for quite a long time.
Political parties need funds to operate and we need a process that is as fair as possible. It must be obvious to most people that our one-person-one-vote system is easily corrupted if one party is able to raise funds from wealthy sources and other parties have to exist on very little.
It matters little whether the money comes from the business world or trade unions. It is doubtful if any strong argument can be made that the previous system has been anywhere near equitable.
The problem of finding a fair method is made substantially easier if total expenditure is capped at a level much lower than currently exists and that cap must include all expenditure not just that incurred during the election campaign.
If the cap was low enough, effectively enforceable and a reasonable lead time was given to allow party organisations to be adjusted downwards in a civilised manner, it is possible that parties could raise all resources from individuals in the future.
However, if the party system needs more than can effectively be raised from individuals in order that there are sufficient funds for effective research departments then the only other source is from the Exchequer.
This is where the difficulty arises because then politicians have to realise that there has to be some completely new thinking and an almost certain acceptance that the political establishment system has to be dismantled.
Almost all politicians fail to realise the reason we are discredited so much is that we are regarded by the public, not as their representatives, but as privileged group acting in self interest.
It is difficult to mount a convincing argument to dispel this belief when so many members have entered Parliament as a career. A vote once every four or five years is no substitute for the electorate having some direct influence on policy and other decisions that governments make.
There is certainly a need for something more acceptable than compulsory voting introduced in order to try to justify a right to govern.
There is not enough space here to expand and develop the arguments but, although an anathema to politicians, it will probably have to involve term limits for Members of Parliament ? and even party leaders. This returns us to another current hot topic in the press!
? Alan Keen is Labour/Co-op MP for Feltham and Heston.

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