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.