Against State Funding of Political Parties
Would you be willing to fork out 50p a year to help clean up British politics? I don't know about you but I would. Happily. So, too, would the Independent's Mary Ann Sieghart
To answer your question, Mehdi, no I would not be willing to spend a single fucking penny on funding British parties which – given it keeps the same old shit in power – would not “clean up politics” but merely perpetuate the status quo. And the fact that a journalist for The New Statesman and The Independent proves precisely nothing.
The article then rambles on, presenting a largely tedious case for state funding that life is too short to really engage with. The real meat of this article, though, come when Hasan attempts to rebut the objections people have to state funding if political parties:
Let's deal with the two most common objections to state funding: the practical one and the principled one. The practical one says that in our "age of austerity" and in the wake of the afore-mentioned expenses scandal, it would be near-impossible to persuade the public to sign up to state funding, to having the revenue from their precious taxes diverted towards political parties.
Which strikes me as a pretty good objection; every penny spent on saving David Cameron from having to have dinner with an opinionated business man is a penny that isn’t spent elsewhere. It is also – given what Hasan is effectively calling for here is a new annual tax – money that has to be taken from a tax paying public already stretched to the hilt. The practical side to this really is rather important. But not to Hasan:
For a start, the 50p figure, in my view, is sellable to Joe Public. Come on, it's the cost of a first-class stamp! Warsi talks of "£100m" (I assume she gets this amount from adding up the £23m-per-annum cost over four years) as if it some huge, unaffordable sum of public money. Yet, in December, her leader, the Prime Minister, clicked his fingers and doubled the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics - from £40m to £80m. That we can afford? Really? But we can't spare £100m over four years to clean up British politics? To help fix a broken, discredited and unpopular party funding system? Critics of state funding refer to it as the "state funding of politicians" which, of course, is a phrase that turns off voters. Supporters of reform, therefore, should refer to it as the "state funding of democracy".
Well, it is the cost of a first class stamp only for now. Besides, I would rather spend that money on a first class stamp than on political parties. And this notion that because Cameron is spending more money on the Olmypics more money can be spent on political parties is an argument drowning in its own lack of logic. Firstly, the state funding of political parties and the Olympics are completely different things. Secondly, the fact that Cameron is willing to spend more money in one area does not make it right to spend it either there or in another area. And frankly we don’t have the money to spend on the Olympics, so spending even more money on an even less worthy cause is the very definition of stupid.
And critics call this the “state funding of politicians” because it is the state funding of politicians. The state already funds democracy through the administration of elections; Hasan’s proposal is effectively the state funding of the status quo.
Then there's the so-called principle behind opposing such funding. It's wrong, say the critics, for the state to fund political parties. It's undemocratic and statist. This is nonsense. First, free-market, small-government America has no such "principled" objection to the state funding of presidential candidates - in 2008, Republican candidate John McCain turned down "matching funds" in the primaries but then took them in the general election.
I’m pretty sure that you could find a lot of people in America who do object to state funding of politicians. And John McCain, with the best will in the world, is hardly a radical libertarian politician. Furthermore, the fact that he did something in a floundering campaign proves nothing; It doesn’t make state funding of political parties either practical or right.
Second, the same political parties and politicians who say state funding is wrong in principle refuse to acknowledge or recognise that we already have a form of state funding: it's called "short money"… In 2009/10, the Tory opposition led by David Cameron took £4m in taxpayer-funded short money; in 2010/11, Labour under Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband took £4.6m.
So what? Again So what? The fact that Cameron and Miliband Minor did something does not make it a right or a good thing to have done. There is a crucial difference between the right thing to do and the self-serving thing to do.
So let's have a little less moralising from our politicians about the supposed evils of state funding. They should just get on with fixing our broken system of party funding. The status quo is unsustainable - and an embarrassment.
It may very well be true that status quo is an embarrassment, but there is nothing in Hasan’s account that suggests that his solution is any better than the status quo. Indeed, his solution is all about preserving the status quo; it is about funding the main parties already in existence. What he argues for – and what everyone who argues for state funding of political parties – is political parties as welfare recipients; as the clients of the very system the purport to run and change.
So by all means change the way parties are funded; state enforced caps and state offered funding are not the way forward - particularly since much of the problem comes from the inability of parties to obtain funding by actually inspiring the public to give their hard-earned cash to them voluntarily.