The reaction of the British public to the latest party funding scandal
The common feature of recent political scandals is that everybody even tangentially connected with politics (to the extent of reading the political pages in the newspaper) knew already that this was how things worked. Tabloid newspapers have been opening people's mail and going through their bins for a century. MPs expenses
were deliberately jacked up
instead of their salary back in the 1980s. And party funding has been a constant embarrassment since the days when Lloyd George knew my father
. Literally none of this should have been a surprise to anybody.
When it comes to the latest scandal - that Tory donors were promised access to the PM in return for properly large donations - I really don't see the iniquity. Let's take it back to basics. How do political parties get funding? Either by personal donation, or from the state. If we're not going to switch to state funding (and we shouldn't) why should people give money to political parties? The ideal sort of donor is one who's politically closely aligned with your party, and therefore gives money out of a sense of patriotic duty, asking for nothing whatsoever in return. These chaps aren't so thick on the ground, however, that a funding strategy can be built around them. You need to be offering something in return.
Without this back-up, the Tories have traditionally fallen back on business and the City of London
for its funding. And since there's no obligation for such people to give money to the Tories, there has to be something in the way of a quid pro quo
. I know it's an unpopular view, but personally, I thought that the non-explicit sale of honours wasn't a bad way of doing things. Peerages aside, all the honour system does is provide a snobbish sense of social superiority at practically zero cost to the state.
But if that's not allowed (and, to be fair, it definitely isn't
) then surely the least harmful inducement that could be offered to donors is facetime with party celebrities (such as they are)? It's not as if Cameron is going to change party policy in return for a donation (although there is precedent I suppose
). As Paul Goodman says
, what will happen is that Cameron will be charming and gracious and Prime Ministerial at the donor, who will go home suffused with a sense of his own importance and status, and tens of thousands of pounds lighter in the pocket.
If you ban personal access in return for funding, you are pretty much making private fund-raising impossible. And, unless you're happy to see the death of the political party system in the UK, you will then have to implement state funding of the parties. And that will end the party funding scandals right? No, it won't
. And since party co-operation on the reform of party funding is all but impossible (Labour won't countenance anything that endangers Union funding, Tories won't cripple their ability to raise money unless that Union funding is similarly shacked) we may as well get used to this sort of horrifying scandal cropping up from time to time - regardless of who's in power.