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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Straw urges party spending limits
A local election count
Mr Straw wants spending limits on political parties at all times
Commons Leader Jack Straw will warn of the dangers of politics becoming a "spectator" sport, as he calls for limits on spending by all parties.

He will say the growth in 24-hour news has turned electors into commentators who rarely engage in political debate.

By introducing spending limits at all times, parties will be forced to recruit and involve more members.

He will also stress that if politics becomes more personal, people will have more trust in the system.

Spending 'arms race'

Mr Straw, who lost his job as foreign secretary in last month's Cabinet reshuffle, is set to outline his concerns about the future of party politics in a Fabian Society lecture at the London School of Economics.

He will say political parties have a "once in a generation opportunity" to end the spending "arms race" "which has become such a flawed alternative to the more difficult, but essential activity of persuading people to join our parties".

The more local and personal our politics becomes, the more that trust and confidence in the system will be built up
Jack Straw

"If I am convinced of one thing about the future for party politics, it is that it must move from being a spectator 'experience' to a contact sport, where the public engage with politicians on the field, on equal terms, not from the touchlines," he will say.

It is no coincidence that as membership levels have dropped, parties have resorted to fundraising methods that involve little contact with potential new recruits, he will say.

He acknowledges that as a Labour MP and minister he has benefited from the use of market research, direct sales and semi-automated phone calls to bring in cash.

But he warns: "These techniques must not take over our politics... because none of them can replicate the most essential element of democratic politics - argument."

In diplomacy or business the most difficult negotations are conducted face-to-face, he will add.


Spending limits would force politicians to engage opinion at public meetings, on the doorstep and on the floor of the council or Commons chamber.

The speech will form part of the evidence for the review of party funding under former Whitehall mandarin Sir Hayden Phillips.

It comes in the wake of the so-called "cash for honours" scandal and disclosures Labour and the Conservatives largely funded their general election campaigns through secret loans from wealthy backers.

In Mr Straw's view, spending limits should be introduced "at all times".

"If and when we do that, as a result of the current review, parties will be forced, if they want to flourish, to recruit, retain and involve more members and supporters," he will say.

"The more local and personal our politics becomes, the more that trust and confidence in the system will be built up.

"All of us involved in politics know this, and the polling data confirms, that trust levels significantly improve in respect of politicians who are known."

Mr Straw will say the last reform of spending controls, which he introduced as home secretary in 2000, had "inadvertently" left a "gaping hole" in the rules by reducing the controls on local spending before elections.

He will stress the decision to hold a Commons vote before the Iraq conflict had set a precedent which was "very likely" to be followed before any future decision to go to war.


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