Deal or no deal

19 Feb 2015

The public are sick to death of party funding scandals. Over the last two weeks we have been exposed to yet more findings about the suspect dealings of party donors. It brings our democracy into disrepute, and we have to do something about it.


Today the ERS publishes a report (called Deal or No Deal: how to put an end to party funding scandals) which sets out the scale of public anger about the way parties finance themselves, and what the parties have to do to assuage that anger. Our polling from last year found that:


  • 75% believe big donors have too much influence on our political parties
  • 65% believe party donors can effectively buy knighthoods and other honours
  • 61% believe the system of party funding is corrupt and should be changed


This level of dissatisfaction is clearly unsustainable, yet if something isn't done then the next party funding scandal is just around the corner. Whatever the outcome in May, the next government has to get to grips with the way parties are funded.


Our report sets out what needs to be done. We propose three solutions, all of which have been recommended by previous committees looking into party funding and have been shown by ERS polling and focus group research to command support from the public. These are:


  • A cap on the amount that anyone can donate to a party, to end the big-donor culture that has led to scandal after scandal
  • An increased element of public funding for parties, to bring the UK into line with other advanced democracies
  • A cap on the amount that parties are allowed to spend, to end the arms race between parties at election time


There is huge public support for doing what it takes to get big money out of politics, so whichever party takes a lead on this could stand to benefit at the polls.


And the UK is way behind the rest of Europe on this, spending just a tenth of the European average on supporting parties and doing far less than most countries when it comes to limiting the influence of wealthy donors.


It's time we caught up with the modern world and cleaned up party funding once and for all.


Have a read of the full report


And if you liked this, why not stay in touch?


31 Responses to Deal or no deal

Bill Aitch 22 Feb 2015

Do we really need party politics, or MP's telling us how to live our Democratic lives, please? They are normally so self-centred, and are a complete waste of space, and all other resources. The current system is so archaic, strictly sectarian, and equally fascist. Devoid of any equqality whatever, this system is so oft mistaken for a Democracy. A full Public Referendum on any, and every issue, would be the best way forward, and is now possible, by means of electronic, chip'n-pin secured ballot. This would mean that we would have a running total after every single vote, even if we leave the polling open a full 24hrs., giving every shift-worker the opportunity to have their say. It is our country, funded by our own hard labour, not theirs, an infinite minority, who have little or no interest in our future, or immediate welfare, but only in their own self centred proffit.

Mark Scott 22 Feb 2015

Political parties should definitely not be funded by the state. They should have to raise their funding from their supporters, and there should be some strong limits and constraints on how they receive these funds in order to prevent undue influence or corruption. Specifically:
1. Only registered voters are eligible to contribute.
2. Each voter's contributions are strictly limited to a defined amount per calendar year - suggest £5000.
3. Contributions must be routed via an impartial agency ("The Political Funding Agency" for example), and be passed on *anonymously* to the designated recipient party or candidate.
4. Donors must certify on pain of prosecution for perjury that their contributions are made from their own resources (this is to prevent wealthy donors from paying others to contribute on their behalf).
5. Political contributions might be offset against tax liabilities.

Richard Lung 28 Feb 2015

Glad to read that most commenters didn’t go for these strong-arm tactics of making the public pay parties, since allowing people, to freely do so, no longer works, given the morally and financially bankrupt state of politics.

If you want to poison the polluted well of politics, throwing money at political parties, like throwing money at the banks, the authors of our misfortunes, state funding of parties is the way to fester already existing resentment.

It seems that it is not enough that our vote is ineffective, insult must be added to injury, by making us pay for the privilege of exercising it.

One has to wonder of the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, and their ilk, why they are so solicitous of political parties.

The same goes for their feeble safeguards for a workable constitutional convention. If only a majority of the public are allowed on the convention, they would have to have near unanimity to make any non-establishment wishes prevail.

Political parties utter frustration of democracy has been well documented for well over a century, since Ostrogorski. He also knew that a chief remedy was the single transferable vote.

Funding the parties for monumental research projects of obfuscation contrasts with HG Wells remark, in 1916, that it only takes about an hour to realise, that PR by STV is the demonstrably right method of elections, and to be convinced of the fatal and incurable mischiefs of any other method.

John Brennan 20 Feb 2015

I agree with your first two comments. Regarding the next one, I believe that as of now the party should fund its own website with links to its candidates. A TV debate could be held at a local church hall and should include all the candidates competing for that particular seat. I find the remainder of the post a little confused apart from the last three lines with which I agree entirely.

Mike Davies 20 Feb 2015

State funding for political parties is a really, reaally bad idea.
The electoral system is already hugely biased against small parties and new parties. First-past-the-post makes it stunningly difficult for a new party to break into the cabal that is the existing major parties. If you add to that the provision nof state funding to extablished political parties, you might as well forget anything innovative.
Every system proposed for determining who gets state funding has the effect of entrenching established parties. It would creat a political class not only proteected against challenge but even free from the need to listen to its own supporters.
The ERF should be ashaemd of itself for promoting such establishment rubbish.

Charles Vickers 26 Feb 2015

State funding for political parties already happens. For example Labour get over £7 million from the public purse and, at the other end of the scale, the Green party gets more money than their MP gets as a salary (if you do not believe me browse the pages of the electoral commission website) . I think this should stop. There already are limit on campaign spending. Limiting funding by individuals is likely to stop any effective attempt to found a new party aimed to have general appeal rather than a single issue. Getting a new political party off the ground is not easy because getting the mass publicity needed to get sufficient funding requires either a huge expenditure on leafleting with an army of volunteers (something that by definition a new party does not have) or it requires illegal activities such as violent demonstrations - which always get media publicity - or illegal activities such as failing to register the party with the electoral commission and not following its rules on party behaviour and funding. To found a new political party under some of the conditions promoted in these comments will require a sizeable group of politically obsessed individuals prepared to work 24/7 planning, shaking tins, leafleting and holding meetings. Much of England is rightly suspicious of people like this but this is what we will end up with if we attempt to apply strict and/or draconian measures to all in order to control a problem caused by a few.

John Brennan 20 Feb 2015

Definitely not. Politicians should not be allowed to take hard working taxpayers money from them just to fund their own ambitions. If they want to be elected to public office, they should put their money where their mouths are, and if they don't have any money then they should campaign in the market place of their local town and have a collecting box conveniently available.

Malcolm Morrison 20 Feb 2015

No 'corporate organisation' (company, trade union or other 'association') should be allowed to donate to any political party.

No individual should be allowed to donate more than a fixed sum (say £5000) to any party in any one year.

All parties MUST publish their annual accounts.

Dominic Kasteel 20 Feb 2015

The ERS proposal sounds practical, sensible, democratic and infinitely better than the morally and politically dubious mess we have at the moment. There is probably no perfect solution, but serious improvement is a step in the right direction.

John Coyne 20 Feb 2015

On the ballot paper you could have a box to tick if you wanted your bit of state funding to go to the party you voted for.

That way it's a voluntary allocation of state funding. People who disagree with state funding (or maybe are voting tactically) could leave the box blank.

Norman Graves 21 Feb 2015

To my mind the problem arises due to the inequality between the parties as to the resources they use to propagate their ideas particularly at election time. The simplest method to deal with the problem would be to set a low and strict limit to the amount parties could spend at election times. At other times parties should be funded by their members' membership fees. These fees should be set not to exceed an annual fee of say £50, to enable those on low incomes to join a party if they wish.

Stephen Johnson 23 Feb 2015

The current situation is a disgrace, and this would be a step in the right direction.

To qualify for state funding parties should have to demonstrate a threshold level of public support.

We should abolish the cash deposit for election candidates and replace it with a simplified system demonstrating significant local support for a candidate. Electronic ways of doing this should be explored.

Malcolm MacINTY... 27 Feb 2015

I feel that all UK political parties have become so self-interested and tribalised, not to mention out of touch with the daily reality for ordinary citizens that it is now essential that they be forced into reality check. To achieve both reasonable fairness and a priorty for the national well-being rather than party dogma, there needs to be action in two stages.

FIRST: demand that the only legal party funding will be by a national, standardised, INDIVIDUAL membership fee. No corporate, union or personal donations, no lobbyists, no special interest or religious groups... and certainly no taxes. Just the number of individual citizens who choose to pay the set amount in support of the party of their personal preference. Then all parties will have an exact and direct indicator of their real support amongst the votin population.

SECOND: if that shock does not wake the self-absorbtion of the political class to get them ot colaborate in the interest of national well-being, then political parties must be banned and Constituency Democracy (ConDem) be introduced, with each MP or Councillor required to achieve a minimum of 51% of the votes cast, with a second stage for the two top scorers if no candidate achieves 51% in the first. MPs must work with their constuents, encouraging greater local involvement, to agree policy preferences for which each MP will seek common interest with others to achieve a majority. That will also mean that agreements will probably include different groups, further breaking up the current party line dogma to achieve a more generally accepted preference across different policies.

Or we let them continue their out of touch power games, wasting more of our taxes to support the interests of their party and their tribe... And, yet again, leave the next generation/s to sort out what we didn't have the guts to face up to...again, and again, and again.

Stephen Mason 24 Feb 2015

I'm for a cap on the size of individual and corporate donations to political parties and to a cap on the amount any party can spend on campaigning during any electoral cycle. However, this would depend on finding a watertight definition of what defines a "political party" and finding ways of limiting "slush funds" that are not actually in the name of the party.

I'm totally against public funding of political parties for many reasons. Not least that this could include funding parties with anti-democratic platforms or those that promote sectional hatred. Secondly that it prioritises party supported candidates over individuals who may want to participate in the democratic process. How would they attract public funding and should they attract it?

MP 24 Feb 2015

Agree.No public funding anywhere near the scale proposed and preferably not at all. No wish to have the funding of whatever political party I may support be subject to the Orwellian preferences and dictats of some "independent" body established by and accountable to the state. Yet a further step on the road to a "democratic dictatorship" run by and for the professional political class. Such centralisation may work in those European countries where, for example, the citizens are obliged by law to register where they live with the police and are sufficiently subdued to comply. Despite bungles, incompetence and occasional scandal I prefer financial support for political parties to be voluntarily funded from our own pockets. If sufficient supporters of a political party don't think enough of its policies or candidates to fund them then that party should be re-cast its programme or fold-up.

Carlos Rivera 24 Feb 2015

The suggestions are very good and interesting, unfortunately I don't think they will be particularly helpful.

In the case of Mexico we have all those previsions in place (a cap on the amount that anyone can donate to a party, a huge element of public funding for parties, and a cap on the amount that parties are allowed to spend) and yet the private money (and money from organised crime) is still pretty much ruling and deciding who gets into government and after these public officials have been elected they spend a good part of their government repaying those favours in the form of public contracts, houses, etc.

You might argue that Mexico has a very debilitated justice structure which, in turn, allows for these kind of behaviour, you would be right in arguing this lack of accountability, and yet you see these practices in more consolidated democracies.

Paul Hudson 20 Feb 2015

Yes such funding would be needed to be based on total votes cast , not seats as that would just favour the status quo. With total vets it would also re value the vote itself allowing people to feel that their vote had a real purpose.

Stuart Petts 19 Feb 2015

I do't agree with donations to political parties at all. The taxpayer should fun party campaigns with a strict cap for all parties that is not decided by MPs.

Stephen Argles 20 Feb 2015

The problem with state funding is defining at what point a political party becomes eligible for state funding and how does it fund itself up to that point?

John Brennan 20 Feb 2015

I do not agree that the taxpayer should fund political parties.
Politicians already take far too much of our money as it is, and however low the starting rate is set to start with, the amount taken from us year by year will inexorably rise. The cost of government at all levels is far too high and this will merely add to it.

Peter Brooks 19 Feb 2015

I am uncomfortable with the idea of too much state funding of political parties as it could create too much of a barrier to the creation of new parties if "the Estasblishment" doesn't acknowledge and fund them. Both the other ideas are vital though.

Avtar 20 Feb 2015

Absolute drivel!!!

Why should taxpayers fund them?

Why do they need donations?

How much does it cost to create a website with their policies on it?

Forcing parties to spend according to their means, i.e. income from their membership fees (which should be limited to £10), would mean party funding would be more proportionate to membership/popularity and allow other parties to challenge the big 2, or at least keep them on their toes.

I had a petition for this but when I tried to renew it they refused!

S J Dowden 20 Feb 2015

Political parties are essential to a functioning democracy, at least I can't see how we could do away with them. If taxpayers don't fund political parties, who does?

What is clear at the moment is that big business is prepared to step in and fund political parties. BB does this to to keep themselves in business. Political parties are also only interested in keeping themselves in' business' and need funding to carry out research on which they base their policies and then advertise their policies to an inattentive electorate. Despite the availability of information and the efficiency of modern communications this doesn't come cheap!

Any political party should have as its main aim the good of the country it hopes to govern as well as the people in it. It needs therefore to bend to the will of the electorate and its only by keeping BB, media barons and others in positions of influence at bay will the electorate as a whole have a say how political parties form their policies. One of the best ways to do this is for the electorate as a whole to fund political parties.

John Brennan 20 Feb 2015

You have a very rosy idea of the motives of politicians. I am sure that in the beginning, young people entering politics will very genuinely want to "Make a difference" However they are soon corrupted by the system and many of them become overcome by greed and put their own interests before those of their constituents and the country.

Adrian 20 Feb 2015

Before trying to change [party funding, I'd like to see some debate about why we have parties, and what we should expect of them. Without this, I can't see how anyone can propose feasilbe funding.

Political parties have many bad sides :

They have critical mass, ensuring a high barrier to entry into the parliamentary system. This may reduce fragmentation, but at the expense of encouraging dinosaurs.

Although we vote for individuals, those individuals are rarely free to stand up for their exact beliefs. They are pressurised by the party to follow the line. I don't believe pressure should be applied to MPs to vote in a particular way, especially when it's not mere lobbying but the threat to remove party support (and, because of the first point, any hope of re-election).

Essentially, parties are re-election clubs for MPs, in which support in elections is offered in exchange for block support in parliament. As such, they should be outlawed. They certainly shouldn't be funded other than by the MPs themselves.

J. A. Bosworth 20 Feb 2015

The problems with State funding of political Parties are that it increases general taxation to pay for a discredited (if not disreputable) organisation, that many people will object to being forced to pay for Parties the policies of which are contrary to their own and will persistently raise legal challenges, that the Parties themselves will control how much funding they get each year because no organisation outside Parliament can refuse its demands (since Parliament is the Constitutional Authority for national financial matters), that MPs will therefore simply abuse the system, (as they have with all other attempts to control MPs' greed), and that these factors combined will cause further public and electoral disillusion.
Private/voluntary funding is, therefore, comparable to democracy itself; it is a far from perfect system, but one that is immeasurably better than any of the alternatives.

Henry James Riley 20 Feb 2015

I have just completed reading Deal or No Deal as I like many citizens are tired of the Electoral System.

However, I consider the need to review the system must be much deeper than the Political aspect- why do we need politicians in any case?

I keep hearing about DEMOCRACY, there has never been real democracy in British Politics, the nearest we have got to it was the recent Scottish Referendum.

What a furlore that has created.

The issue is not around DEMOCRACY on its own, EQUALITY is needed, this will bring in greater choice of candidate, TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABLIITY.

We need the DEAT System.

I am working on a number of projects at present, I will come back to this blog with an expanded explanation of the DEAT system of Government, which is a complete review of Government at all levels.

John Cantelo 20 Feb 2015

This report is as far from 'drivel' since it's well argued and balanced. Some form of state funding, moderated by the support parties obtain at elections and in raising membership is our only hope if we are to make politics transparent and not subject to undue pressure from a wealthy minority. Well organised and run political parties who can set out their policies to the electorate are as an important a part of country as a well run health service, police force of the armed services. It's hopelessly naive to think parties could be funded out of £10 membership donations. I undertand that a mere 50p per person would be sufficient which is an extremely modest sum to pay for a working democracy.

Alan Bond 20 Feb 2015

I don't have too much of a problem with the way political parties are currently funded for the most part. We should not judge them all by the way that the tories are funded by big business many of whose owners and shareholder have no real stake in Britain other than as a cash cow. The rest rely on membership fees and small donations from many people whether it be via the trade union movement or other affiliated organisations. Too much state interference would actually damage the democratic process and should be avoided at all costs.

John K 20 Feb 2015

No funding from taxpayers or "foreign money"
Existing system circulation of free post leaflets and a maximum election expenditure to continue
Candidate allowed a website , one TV debate and one "local church hall" at taxpayers expense
[Note Crime commissioners cost taxpayers £2m each to elect]

Why not get to basics and allow only contributions
[ say £100 max.] to candidates direct from individual constituents on the electoral roll for the Ward / Constituency but not from a national party / association / business.
Candidates could state their policies which may coincide with proposals from various pressure groups whose research is funded by donations from individuals on the electoral roll with a cap of say £500 p.a.
All such electoral income and expenditure to be published.
foreign funding of political hard and soft "advertising " banned.
e.g.funding of BBC by EU to cease.[approx £6m p.a]

Ian Campbell 20 Feb 2015

'No' to increased funding for political parties. It represents the creeping 'nationalisation' of politics. If parties cannot get enough funding from ordinary members and modest donations let them die. 'Yes' to your other two proposals.
Other suggestions:
(1) If people don't vote, remove them from the electoral register and let them re-apply.
(2) Every political party that produces a manifesto for Scotland and Wales should also produce one for England.
(3) Get behind Lord Strathclyde's proposal for Home Rule to be given to all of the British nations with the House of Lords becoming the UK Parliament.
(4) If (3) is implemented let the English Parliament have the same proportional electoral system as applies in Scotland.