Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stitch-up Going In

Again from the BBC, a reminder that the deadly silence, after the brief flurry of soundbites following the Phillips review of party funding had subsided, doesn't mean there's nothing to hear.

All three main parties are discussing the matter today and, despite the lack of any real comment of late from any one of them, it does appear that some progress has been made. Their reaction to the proposals in the review by Sir Hayden Phillips apropos taxpayer funding of parties was, at the time, quite muted and amounted to no more than that they were a 'basis for negotiation'. It now seems that whatever negotiations have taken place already, that handouts from the taxpayer are the one thing they all positively agree on.

It's actually only the reluctance to stand up publicly and justify their stance in public offends me greatly. Personally I would like to see a transition to a point where parties are funded through larger numbers of smaller, capped donations encouraged through tax incentives. I've got no ethical issue with larger, fully disclosed corporate donations, but in the real world we have to accept the feeling of distrust these raise. Actually, in my preferred model I believe an additional element of state funding would be required, albeit of a limited form. Above and beyond the existing Short money formula which is intended to counterbalance the benefits of incumbency, there should be further funding along the general Hayden Phillips lines. This second element though should though be strictly time limited, gradually dropping, perhaps from the levels proposed in the report to zero over a period of ten years or so. I think this second element is needed to allow honest and orderly change to take place; in the same way, I might dislike the BBC licence fee, but I don't think it's practical to eliminate it overnight. The legislation should make the amounts and timescales explicit. To restore trust, the act should explicitly not allow Orders in Council, quickie votes in the commons or any other device below the MSM radar, to increase or extend either.

Old cynic that I am, I have a suspicion that there will be some package agreed involving substantial handouts from the taxpayer without limit to timescale or amount. I further suspect that there will be some mechanism employed, as with the Freedom of Information (Amendment) bill, to avoid either front bench having to stand up and have their views counted.

18 Doughty Street on the subject...

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