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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Should political parties be state-funded?
Home Secretary David Blunkett expects that political parties will eventually be financed by the state. He said that democracy depended on the proper accountability of political parties.
Dependency on cash gifts from individuals and corporations raises suspicions about the benefactors' influence on government policy.
In 2001, 20% of Labour's funding came from large donors and at the weekend the Conservatives called for an inquiry into the £32m smallpox vaccine contract awarded to a Labour donor without being put out to tender.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has admitted that allegations of sleaze relating to large business donations are "a problem" for the government.
Do private donations keep the government in the pockets of big business and unions? Will state funding make the political process more accountable to British voters?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Revolting idea. My taxes funding the Tory party! I'd rather go to prison.
No! This can only be anti-democratic.
The answer would be for all donations to be anonymised (using a similar system to the code numbers allocated by the Crimestoppers service). Names could then be put to the donations at the end of the following Parliament. It would be a criminal offence to make one's name known to the party before this time.
There would need to be a lower limit for this (?500?) or it would be unwieldy.
People should remember that money has influence beyond political parties. The fate of a large company affects the whole countries economy, it may therefore be right that the political ear can be pulled by money.
This is a good historical moment for the British people to realise that the party political system itself does not belong to the 21st century and is a reflection of an earlier age in the political maturation process. The tribalism of political parties, three-line whips, party discipline etc fly in the face of freedom. Our political process ought to reflect individual conscience and initiative not tribal belonging. Therefore, abolish parties and base Parliament on *individuals* free to associate with and disassociate from whomsoever they will on the basis of issues.
Political parties should work for their donations not get them automatically. The unions are voting with their feet by withdrawing contributions to the Labour party. That is how it should be.
Parties should be state funded, and
all given exactly the same amount of
funding, regardless of voters
preferences at the last election.
Completely level the playing field.
Monster Raving Loony chaps get the same
as New Labour. Otherwise we end up
with a premiership type super-league. Be interesting to see how voting
patterns would change were the lunatic
fringe to acquire equal TV coverage
rights alongside the big three political
I am opposed to the concept of state funding for political parties. It seems risky to give the ruling party control of its rivals' purse-strings!
Many people here have touted
the idea of linking state funding
to the number of votes won by
There is a fundamental flaw
with this approach - positive feedback:
Richer parties can run bigger
campaigns. This may let them
secure more votes, and therefore
more state funding, making them
The effect reinforces the cause - small
parties would find it hard to grower under
Can I suggest an idea. No outside funding just £1 - £5 per voter per government term. This would be allocated at the ballot box by the voter to the nominated local party/candidate. The voter would also have the option to not allocate (or give to charity).
This way centralisation would be resisted and Parties would be more democratic. An interesting twist would be to make the allocation annual so any "we're elected now - forget the promises" attitudes can be corrected. Finally how about only forming a government if a party gets over 50% of possible votes?
What would you prefer?
A. A government that is dependent on self-interest groups to finance their election campaign, and therefore serve the interest of these groups, not the people?
B. A government that can take actions that are always to meet the demand of the people, as they are financially dependent on the people?
We are questioning if we should have a democracy where the people or corporations should be in power.
I see. I already pay someone to go to Parliament and represent his party instead of me. Now they want me to pay for the party too?
If this becomes compulsory I'm emigrating.
No doubt the political parties will award themselves generous amounts of taxpayers' cash to fund themselves. Somehow the idea of a load of political activists (of whatever political persuasion) gorging themselves for free while pensioners wait on trolleys in corridors, abhors me. If you take away political donations, businesses and lobby groups will find other ways of influencing politicians (A seat on the board, consultancies etc). Perhaps Mr Blunkett should be looking at a more rigid set of rules (RULES not guidelines) to regulate politicians' behaviour. If they weren't allowed to vote where there was a vested interest, it would stop this form of bribery overnight
If parties were solely state funded, what methods would business resort to in order to lobby or influence government thinking? This could get really murky. A system of declared donations, limited to about £15,000 per company per parliament, plus some state funding would be a better choice.
Absolutely. The running of the country is very important and the leaders have so much power over large sums of our money that we should do what we can to eliminate the risk of commercial bias or corruption.
Besides, the actual amounts involved are absolutely tiny compared to the annual budget.
Parties as such should not be funded.
However, candidates for election should get free printing of one leaflet, and free postage to deliver it.
MP's, councillors and all other elected representatives (whether party members or individuals) should receive funds to cover their "political" admin/policy research etc. as well as the resources to carry out their normal representative role.
I cannot believe that people actually think state funding might be good idea! Blair decided that Labour would be open about any donations that were made to their Party yet they were still faced with allegations of sleaze. It's the public's paranoia and suspicions that is the real problem.
The same people that would be relying on the public's money for their wages are the people that vote to increase their own wages. To many politicians state funding = unlimited salaries. State funding is not the way forward as has been suggested here. How anyone can say it would increase democracy is beyond me. Although we'd be paying the wages we certainly won't have any influence on who gets how much. Where is the democracy in that?
An increase in taxes (no matter how small) to benefit a group of fat cats as opposed to public services is an absurd notion.
State funding of political parties, based on the votes they attract in elections is the only sensible and cost-effective way to circumvent accusations of sleaze. The current system of voluntary patronage puts both donor and beneficiary in an invidious position. Any company contributing to a political party will lay itself vulnerable to insinuations should that party gain power and the company win government contracts. I am to some extent perplexed as to how any properly managed company or, indeed Trade Union, can contemplate giving money to a political party other than for purposes of gaining some material advantage. Perhaps it is best that they are deprived of this opportunity, and here I include any contributions in kind or via "sponsorship", by law.
Yes, parties should be state funded. The payment should be proportional to the number of the votes cast in the previous election. To allow new parties to enter, or regional parties to expand, any party getting less than 5% of the vote should be able to raise funds by other means, up to the amount they would have got if they had achieved 5% of the vote. This is the only way to avoid allegations of sleaze, and real cases of influence by rich companies.
This isn't rocket science. Obviously state funding and a ban on excessive or all other forms of funding would remove a big source of corruption. And Australia is one example where parties get state funds (although they don't ban all other funding). The simple formula is that a party gets so many cents per vote won at the previous election.
What a horrible idea! Political parties serve no useful purpose but their own, and cutting all funding to them would be a great improvement. Ken Livingstone doesn't belong to a political party, but many Londoners think he is doing a great job as mayor. He promised Londoners what Londoners wanted, and not what some political party thought they ought to have.
Getting rid of political parties altogether would be extremely healthy for democracy.
If political parties become state funded then surely we would need to be able to check their personal bank accounts / financial assets for possible backhand payments?
If a company is not providing anything of worth then it will go bankrupt. Why should the political parties be any different?
Ian Henry, Germany
Who decides which party or parties deserve the most of our money? Or would all parties get the same amount, no matter how extreme that party, to create a reasonably level playing field at elections? Or would Labour just get loads because they have a massive majority. No I think I'd rather not if that's OK. This government is always preaching how the private sector should be more involved in things that are currently state run, and should stick to its principles, if it has any.
I work hard and pay my taxes. I don't earn very much and after tax, rent, travel costs etc I have next to no money to buy food and live on. I have a job that is not stimulating and is disheartening but I need it in order to keep a roof over my head. I have a strong dislike for other people who sponge off of my taxes that I work very hard for. This applies to anyone who doesn't have a job and keeps taking the dole instead of working and if the government start using my taxes to fund themselves it will include them too! If we start using our tax money to fund parties then it is at the cost of travel, health and education. Why are we paying so much money to a government that gives nothing back and just keeps taking our money. If they use my hard earned tax money for their own benefit I will refuse to pay my taxes.
Political parties funded by the state would be a waste of money. They must be voluntarily funded, making the state of their coffers indicative of their support from the public.
The purpose of a political party is to represent a view that is widely held by sections of the electorate. Those people achieve a common voice through the party and if they have sufficient collective will, they can fund the party (2.50 annually per supporter would fund most parties). If politicians cannot raise enough funding from their supporters, they really should question their own existence.
God forbid, politicians milk enough from the tax payer.
Definitely not. The politicians get enough money for doing as little as possible as it is. If it were state funded you could just see all the bickering about who gets what. Who would decide? Our parliament is already a laughing stock, they are like a gang of little kids (and that's being insulting to children, some of them are better behaved). Politicians want huge pay (which they generously award themselves large pay rises each year) for doing as little as possible. Anyway they haven't got time to do much work as they are always on holiday!
Jim Duncan, UK
Stephen from the USA is exactly right when he says that whoever controls the purse controls the party. This goes a long way to explaining some of the US governments' decisions, especially over the environment.
Funding through taxation is the only way to stop the constant allegations of corruption, whether real or not, which we are bombarded with by all parties for political gain and which has bred an intense cynicism about politics into many people in this country.
This is a very bad idea for he who controls the purse, controls the party.
Nadeem Backus, UK
This is the fairest system that we are aware
of .It will take some of the sleaze out of
politics. There is a perception that
politicians are bought by vested
interests through large political
"Justice must not only be done it must be seen to be done"
State-funding of political parties is the best way forward at the moment. One only has to look at the trouble this and the last conservative government got itself into over taking bungs from rich businessmen. It is the best way to prevent politicians in this country formulating policy to suit big business instead of the country. Far too many former ministers line their grubby pockets with lucrative directorships when they leave office, as we saw with conservative ex-ministers who went to serve on the board of the companies they privatized. Look and see how many labour ex-ministers become directors on the board of companies involved in the PFI scheme.
Since the problem is that donations
appear to buy influence, here is a solution
that doesn't involve the taxpayer footing
the bill. All funding to the political parties
should be conducted through a blind
trust. Those who wish to support the
party can pay money to the trust indicating
which party they wish to support and
the parties would receive the money without
knowing who the contributors were.
State funding of political parties is a symptom of a weak democracy. The best way for political parties to be funded is through a large number of small (500) donations. The blame falls both on the British people who increasingly refuse to make the smallest effort politically and also on MPs who refuse to argue about the issues with the required honesty.
The current state of party funding is not great but an increase in state funding would be an admission of defeat.
This just shows that the political parties are getting too lazy to carry out their own fundraising.
Will we get a chance to nominate which party get our money? I wouldn't want to be giving money to the Tories whilst still boycotting businesses that donate to them.
Why do I get the feeling that most of the money will go to Labour and the Tories, creating even bigger barriers for other parties to overcome?
State funding of political parties in the United States has not stemmed the crippling corruption at all levels of government there.
Big contributors skirt laws in the U.S. by bundling contributions and by donating to the national party rather than an individual candidate. The whole system is a shambles and I would be thoroughly impressed if the British could implement a corruption-free system. I personally would love to see it.
A Great Step! However funding political parties from the state is bit too far. By fixing the expenditures involved in reaching out to people during election campaign, and funding that alone can be sufficient. People need not be taxed to pay for everyday affairs of various
functionaries of political parties. Party functions can be part-time work
for those who earn otherwise for their living.
If we are to be truly democratic the UK should be placing less emphasis on political parties and more on full-time elected representatives. The concept of political parties is relatively new in British politics.
We might not want to pay for political parties if we don't feel that they are working in our interest. So perhaps the answer is to fund them from public sources so that they indeed are working for us and not the vested interest of large donors.
Yes, political parties should be state funded. But the funding should be directly proportional to party membership - that way parties will have to go out and actively engage people in the political process.
Do people really think that state funding would be instead of private funding? Goodness no, it would be as well, politicians will never exploit us for our cash everyway they can.
Political parties should definitely be funded by the state. It is very clear that the parties are working to the benefit of their rich business backers and not representing the will of the people. This is not democracy, and instead, our government is just a tool for big business and wealthy individuals. See what is happening in America, the government is even going into war to please its defence and oil company backers.
If we would like to live in a totally democratic country, political parties should be state-funded - but will this necessarily reduce the sleaze relating to big business donations'?
Political parties should fund themselves, why should the taxpayer fund them? At the same time they should keep their noses clean like everybody else has to. This should be seen to be the case in reality, not by some false set of markers. The real time publication of donors and their donations in clear and obvious places will help (rather than some small print in a room in Westminster). Also, there should be a ceiling on donation values together with an assumption of guilt where donors suddenly achieve grace and favour. Donor organisations involved in tendering for Government contracts should have limits placed on their tendering activities.
Rhys Jaggar, England
It is sensible to allocate a state fund for political parties and prevent not only media magnates but also big businesses and rich individuals from dictating the policies of governments elected by ordinary masses with no such power whatsoever.
Political parties that have representation in the House of Commons already get substanial state funding under Short Money and Cranbourne money rules. They are soon to get policy development grants. Yet political parties that have representation in the European Parliament do not receive any such funding. For serious political parties such as the Green Party that has representation at European levels, GLA members and numerous local authority Principal Councillors, there is no state funding thus making it extremely hard for them to get their message across. To give an example, Labour and Tories spend up to 15 million on the last general election, the Liberal Democrats spent in the region of 4 million whilst the Green Party which has no big backers from the world of business or the Trade Unions spent just over 50,000. Vote for vote the Green Party represents the best value for money and has shown that it can use its small resources wisely to promote the values of a sustainable society. If we want a fair system, we must have open, honest and accountable state funding of political parties.
How can you decide how much each party get? If you base it on previous results, then it would simply mean that the bigger parties get bigger, and the minority ones get squeezed out. Or is that the real intention?
If political parties have failed so badly, causing massive voter apathy, why should the tax payer bail them out? Let the parties sink, as it is the only way I can see that we might get accountable politicians.
Chris Taylor, GB
Do we really want tax paying money to extremist parties? And if there is a electoral threshold for state funding what would that be? What about parties linked to terrorism in Northern Ireland? Should they receive funding?
This idea seems fine at first but when you look into it, it raises more problems than it solves.
True democracy is the choice to not take part as much as it is an opportunity to take part. State funding will force every tax payer to make a financial donation to a political parties they will not believe in. This is wrong.
What next? Fining people who refuse to vote?
D. Clouston writes that State funding will remove the influence of big business. What about removing the overbearing influence of big government?
Definitely. It is the only way to curb the insidious influence of big business.
Does that mean that only taxpayers will be able to vote?
How would the money from the public purse be apportioned between the many political parties?
Personally I think the case for state funding of political parties is quite convincing as long as we can agree to some guidelines.
Firstly let's both cap General Election campaigns at 5million per party and annual admin costs at 5 million per party (These would be maximum limits based on size of party). I estimate that over a five year period this would mean a total of 95 million or 35p per person per year. I think that is a reasonable sum if we achieve a trade-off of no private financing of political parties beyond the modest donations of individuals. Of course there must be independent auditing. This is something other political parties have been doing across Europe for years.
Robert Fawkes-Jenkins, UK
So if I set up a political party today can I have some of that money?
Why don't we go the opposite way and ban all funding from businesses and the state and all funding from individuals over say, £100 each per year? Prospective candidates will then actually have to work, listen to the people and think for themselves to get into power. It would result in politicians of calibre and charisma who might actually do some good for the country.
What a truly awful idea. The prospect of any of my reluctantly-paid taxes going to line the pockets of Blair, Brown, Prescott and other such wastrels is truly stomach-turning. However, I'd like to see donations from any one individual, union or business capped at a low level - say £1000 - to prevent politicians being bought as they are at present.
The UK is a bad example of a democracy if political parties receive donations from businesses and companies. This isn't democracy, it's plutocracy! Perhaps plutocracy is such an old habit for your country, mired in class differences that you can't know any better.
No, otherwise the taxpayers will be paying for yet more spin doctors.
Barry M, England
The downside to this proposal is that funding for such crass events as the general election run-up circus would be funded by the taxpayer. On balance though, this might be a reasonable price to pay for stamping out suspicious goings-on involving corporate contributions to political parties. A crucial point is that such contributions would have to be outlawed if state financing were to achieve the intended end, rather than merely serve to pad out other sources of party income!
Philip Shorter, England
Donations only put you in the pocket of the donor if you allow them to. You can accept a donation from anyone who wishes to support you. They support you because they believe in your policies not because they believe they will get a kickback. All the government need to do is to ensure that they don't trade policies, contracts or other help for donations and also that they are clearly seen not to do so by following fair and observable procedures. Why waste our taxes on election posters when we all (political parties included) have much better uses for them?
Of course state funding for political parties should be introduced. Such a move would allow for increased probity in the activity of political parties and diminish the likelihood of sleaze. The arguments against state funding do not add up - the sums involved are small in comparison to the benefits.
Absolutely no chance, I want my tax spent on health, education, pensioners and law and order, not on politicians. This is crazy, if this ever becomes law then that shows how loony the left still is!
Donors do not give large amounts of money to political parties for nothing. They expect something in return - legislation changes, endorsements, government contracts, etc. The whole political establishment appears to be fatally corrupt. Perhaps state funding of parties doesn't go far enough and the whole establishment needs to be overhauled. There is very little about the current setup that is "democratic".
I am not sure whether it will make the political parties more accountable to the British public, but it might get people more interested in participating if they are actually paying to support democracy. The biggest blight on our society today is not the politicians but the countless people who don't bother to vote and then complain about politicians not caring enough.
You can bet your boots that if John Prescott wants state funding it will only be to the Labour party's advantage. Any other reason is just hogwash.
Political parties should earn their support, both in terms of votes and funding. As long as donations are disclosed, there can be no secret deals. Why should taxpayers be forced to fund parties that they might passionately disagree with?
Some sort of state funding is worth considering - the main opposition party gets £3m a year from the state anyway. Both main parties should be prepared to slim down as well, they spent a combined £25m at the last election and it didn't make the slightest difference to either of them. Well, it netted the Tories the Isle of Wight but £13m is a pretty hefty price tag.
Peter - You just couldn't help throwing in your American bash viewpoint into this question, eh? I think the UK should vote you off their island.
Peter J Hunt, England
Never. Or is this another opportunity for stealth taxes to be introduce? We pay enough for politics and politicians as it is.
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