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They get there in the end

Posted by Helen Monday, November 12, 2007 , ,

Actually, as this is Philip Johnston we are talking about, we have to admit that he gets there ahead of the pack. In fact, if anyone were to ask me for the names of a few really good journalist in Britain, I would probably put Mr Johnston top of the list (on the assumption that our own Christopher Booker is above and beyond competition).

Today's article in the Daily Telegraph is entitled "Why I am prepared to break the law" does not give any very sensible instructions on how to overcome two particular heinous pieces of legislation, one already effectively in place, the other due fairly soon but still in the planning stages.

The first is the compulsory ID card that has been long in hatching, is already promising to be twice as costly for every individual as it was originally mooted and is likely to be the biggest cock-up in history of many cock-ups.

The second one is the question of political party funding. On this subject Mr Johnston is eloquent. Analyzing what we already pay to political parties under the heading of "legitimate political activity" he gives a quick overview of the recent report by Sir Hayden Phillips and the all-party discussions that have broken down with mutual recriminations of cheating.

It is typical that these negotiations should founder on the rocks of self-interest, rather than because one or other party was unhappy at the prospect of state funding.

The arrogant assumption that the taxpayer should be fleeced further because the parties spend too much and are having trouble raising enough cash is breathtaking.

Furthermore, the notion that state support underpins political integrity is simply not sustained by the evidence.

If anything, public funding of political parties leads to greater venality, not less, as is evident from countries like Italy or France where campaigning is far more dependent on the taxpayer.

In any case, why should public funds reinforce the political hegemony of a few extant political parties? Who says Labour or the Conservatives have a right to exist that requires support from the taxpayer?
Hmm, I thought, this sounds familiar, particularly that last bit. Could I have been thinking of these words?
As it happens, there already is money from the taxpayer going into political parties. In the first place, somebody has to pay for the free postage and broadcasting slots. It is not unreasonable to ask the electorate to help fund the smooth functioning of free and fair elections, which is what these contribution amounts to.

It is quite another matter to make the electorate pay through taxes for the activities of individual political parties. Parties already receive £2 million in Policy Development Grants and, in all fairness, this, too, should be cancelled.

Sir Hayden comes up with a complicated formula of how parties should receive state funding according to the number of votes cast for them in elections, that being the surest way of showing how much support they can garner. As it happens, he is wrong. Support for parties is shown in votes, in membership, in voluntary activity and in the money they can raise. If they cannot get any of that, they had better start thinking of doing something else with their time.

What this report will achieve, if put into legislation, is a freeze on any political change or development, the very opposite of what it intends. A stronger democracy does not need "sustainable" funding of political parties but a true marketplace for them. Let the people decide and not through tax money being parcelled out by the Treasury.
Yes, I rather think I must have been. These words went up on EUReferendum on March 15, the Ides of March. But they get there in the end.