The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

What Price Democracy?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 16, 2009 @ 08:34

Well, it inspires me...

The news this morning that Zac Goldsmith has spent £260,000 of his own fortune on the battle to become the MP for Richmond makes me feel a little uneasy.

We have never had a serious issue with money dominating British politics. Central party financing of campaigns, and spending limits during the election have always made sure that no one individual has been required to raise vast sums of money personally to fund a campaign. That’s in direct contrast to the USA, where it really helps to be vastly wealthy to fund your own election; or get serious cash from lobbyists.

But now, with common sense out the window, it seems everyone will do anything if it isn’t illegal. And even then it’s worth testing out the limits of the law. See Tony Blair and peerages. Oh, and MPs and their expenses.

Democracy isn’t cheap. Everyone knows that. It costs money to get your message across, though savvy campaigns are extremely good at using their contacts and letter-writing skills to create an astroturfed campaign in the letters section of the local paper.

But £260,000?

It’s clear the spirit of the law is being broken. The £12,000 limit only applies when the election has been called. So why bother having such a limit at all when it’s clear you can actually spend whatever the hell you like?

As in most cases, Something Must Be Done. Overall spending limits are sensible, both on a country-wide and constituency basis; maxima that can be spent per calendar year. Fixed term parliaments would help too, as they would enable us to lock down those tighter spending rules much more reliably before an election.

I also like the idea of serious limits on donations, both from individuals and companies. This would choke Labour’s union funding, but it would also curb Lord Ashcroft. And if there are any new Michael Brown’s out there waiting to pour millions into the Lib Dem warchest, well it would just be tough luck.

These would all be good things. Money distorts values and priorities. That much is a given. Michael Brown made it clear that he thought donating money to the Lib Dems would buy him some friends and they would help him through his legal minefield. And, much as the Trade Unions like to moan, they haven’t do too badly out of a Labour government.

Chances are such limits would encourage the growth of “soft money” like in the USA. That would mean pressure groups would also need to be regulated. And we can do this freely, because we don’t have, in this case, the burden of a First Amendment equivalent. Sorry, but this is one “freedom” that gets seriously abused in the name of sham democracy in the USA…

The trade off from all this? It has to be an increased and fairer level of state funding (which, don’t forget, already exists). The current system of “short money” is not great, however, so it should be replaced. A much better idea is allowing each voter to specify, annually, which party they support, who will then receive a fixed amount per registered supporter.

Creeping up around us in British politics is a taint we’re not used to. Money talks, and its influence is becoming more and more noticeable. It’s time we got serious about tackling it.

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