The ippr have to-day published "Keeping it Clean - the way forward for state funding of political parties."
Sir George's foreword is below.
I welcome the publication of “Keeping it Clean” by ippr. Political parties are essential to the democratic health of the UK, and the current system of funding them has contributed to the disenchantment with the political process. The present system is particularly difficult for the party in power, as recent embarrassments have shown. And without reform, I have no doubt that a future Conservative government and its donors would be similarly exposed to criticism.
In the last Parliament, my party supported the recommendations of the Neill Committee on Party Funding – namely that there should be tax relief on donations up to a specified limit. So did the Upper House and I was sorry that the Government felt unable to agree. My party has of course accepted, with some relief, the increased amount of Short Money that Neill recommended, and we now accept Policy Development funds – along with other parties.
So the debate for all MP’s is not whether there should be taxpayer support for political parties – there already is. The debate is whether we have got it right; and, if not, whether there is a consensus for change.
Ippr identify the weaknesses of the current regime and set out a compelling case for reform. If there is to be more taxpayer support, politicians must respond to some of the current valid criticisms. I believe we spend far too much at election time, and the current cap could usefully be reduced. Some of what we do spend irritates the public by promoting a “yah-boo” type of politics for which there is now little appetite. We should place a cap on the maximum amount of any individual donation, to avoid conflict of interest.
A new system should also encourage broad-based membership parties – by adding a contribution from the Exchequer to the amount they raise from individual members. It should not be a pretext for putting up one’s feet and letting the taxpayer take all the strain.
Of course I understand both my Party’s deep aversion to proposals to increase public expenditure, and the risks of adverse public comment to some of the suggestions in this document. But I don’t believe we can stay where we are; and this document shows the way forward.
Rt Hon Sir George Young MP.