Today a new bill lands in parliament today, courtesy of Labour's Alan Whitehead, Lib Dem Lord Tyler and Conserative Andrew Tyrie.
It deserves attention – because it offers a sensible, cross party approach to party funding.
This bill puts pay to the myth that cross-party solution to party funding isn’t possible. Caps on spending and donations are the only logical response to the electoral arms race.
This week’s figures show how reliant the parties have become on a dwindling number of big donors. Electoral Commission estimates for the first quarter of 2013 show Labour received over £1.5 million from John Mills, founder of home shopping company JML Direct, while Conservatives received £500,000 a piece from the wife of a former arms dealer, and the Chief Executive of head of mining conglomerate Xstrata. And it’s only natural for the public to question their motives.
That policies are not for sale should be beyond doubt. We have reached an impasse because our political class only seem to be motivated by their own bank balances. They need to understand that delay has a price – and that’s public trust in politics.
This week the Times went suggested that Labour drop two policies in order to attract corporate funding. This was breath-taking. Political parties should base their manifestos on their vision for how the United Kingdom could be – not leave it to the highest bidder. Support or rejection of a policy programme should rest on strength at the ballot box, not the depth of donors’ pockets.
An open, clean and fair model of funding the parties would give taxpayers far better value for money. It would ensure our politicians don’t have to dance to the tune of trusts, union bosses or City interests
We cannot wait for the next scandal. All the parties have been tainted by party funding. Party leaders need to take this opportunity break the deadlock, and break the hold of big money on our politics.
Following the county council elections we've been hearing a lot about 'None of the Above'.
The IPPR recently flagged None of the Above – or NOTA - as a part of their plan to boost youth turnout - making voting for under 24s compulsory, but ensuring there's an option for first time voters to register their disdain for the candidates on offer.
The Greeks have the ‘white’ option on their ballot; the US State of Nevada has ‘None of these candidates’. Spain and Columbia have the voto en blanco. Russia abolished it in 2006. Bangladesh introduced it in 2008. And Pakistani voters would have had the option in last weeks’ general election had their electoral commission not rejected it.
NOTA’s younger brother RON may be familiar to those well versed in student politics (for those that aren’t that’s Re Open Nominations). But should the rest of the UK sign up? We've seen petitions and campaigns springing up and we want to see what our supporters think.
So what are the arguments?
The upside. Well we might get a measure of political disenchantment in Britain.
We won't have to speculate about what kept people at home. Nearly 16 million potential voters passed on the 2010 general election, and that should concern us all. The logic is that turnout would increase if those turned off by the parties are given a chance to express their view.
The downside? Shouldn't elections be a positive statement? Will what's been billed as the 'ultimate protest vote' do anything to bridge the growing gap between people and politics? Isn't this all a bit, well, anti-politics?
Where NOTA is an available option the limited evidence to hand suggests it isn’t widely used - it’s populists and hard left and right parties that remain the main beneficiaries of protest votes.
And there are a lot of unknown quantities.
What would happen in the event of a NOTA victory is unclear. Should the seat remain vacant? Would voters get the candidates they were pining for?
We'll leave that to you. Give us your view in the comments box below.
"How could I make a decision? I didn't receive any leaflets"
That seemed to be a common complaint from the 2013 County Council Elections. We’ve conducted a string of interviews for local radio where many voters seemed to feel they didn’t see an election.
Well if you didn’t hear from the parties it’s because your vote doesn’t matter.
In local elections under First Past the Post there are two kinds of voter: those in safe wards, that parties can take for granted, and those in marginal wards that can tip the balance. A handful of addresses in a handful of wards can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and those golden voters can expect leaflets en masse, door knocking, phone calls – the full monty of election campaigning.
So fresh from an interview for BBC Oxfordshire we thought we see what this meant for leaflets – and voters - in one county.
The Conservatives lost control of Oxfordshire Council – but where was this battle fought? Well it wasn’t in the Conservative heartlands in east and west (you can add the north of the county to the list with the exception of Banbury). It wasn’t fought in the Labour strongholds in the City of Oxford. And the battleground wasn’t the handful of Lib Dem bastions in commuter towns around the city.
297,000 voters were unlucky enough to live in these safe wards – that’s 59% of the total electorate.
If you wanted to see leaflets then the centre of Oxford was the place to be – a battleground heavily contested by the centre left. Lib Dems, Labour and Greens out in force – and lots of competition means lots of literature. Banbury saw leaflets galore as it went from blue to red, and several wards bordering Oxford tightly contested between Lib Dems and Conservatives wouldn’t have been short of a few copies of Focus. Some 204,000 golden voters in Oxfordshire’s marginals were getting all the attention.
Just take a look over on Election leaflets to see the difference. This site has been crowdsourcing the material that’s been landing on our mats for years. And it paints a compelling picture of the two kinds of elections voters see in this country.
And it’s as much quality as quantity. There are the full colour glossies received by wards in contention and the grim risographed efforts of paper candidates. And most tellingly of all there are the missing leaflets from parties that aren’t prepared to engage with potential supporters in no-go areas – or even their own voters in their safe wards.
Pop in a postcode for central Oxford and you’ll be spoiled for choice. Check out a postcode for the Eastern fringe of the county, and you’ll be lucky to see anything.
Don’t get us wrong, this behaviour is entirely logical. With limited resources parties will put all their effort in the handful of places where it might make a difference.
But that’s the logic of First Past the Post. All voters deserve to be part of a debate on the future of their community – but that debate isn’t happening in most of Oxfordshire – or indeed in most of the country.
Fair votes for local elections in Scotland have meant the parties can’t get away from engaging with their electorate because all votes matter. It isn’t possible to deem any ward as ‘in the bag’. It means voters are on the receiving end of more debate, and dare we say it, more leaflets.
Voters in Oxfordshire deserve the same deal.
If you didn’t hear from the parties in the local elections we want to hear from you www.electoral-reform.org.uk/rottenboroughs
Still hanging onto leaflets? Upload them to www.electionleaflets.org
Some more good news from today’s Queen’s Speech. And this time it’s for something that’s actually in it.
The Coalition Government is now pledged to bring forward draft legislation to reform elections in Wales.
The current way Wales elects its AMs, a hybrid system known as the ‘Mixed Member System’ (40 via First Past The Post constituencies and 20 Regional List members) is far from perfect. The ban on dual candidacy applies to candidates wanting to stand in both a constituency seat and on a regional list, and has been in force since the 2007 elections.
It’s a ban that should never have been introduced in the first place. It was a measure which was imposed against the wishes of the National Assembly by the then UK Labour government. When a similar measure was considered in Scotland, the cross-party Arthbuthnot Commission firmly rejected a ban. Yet the last Labour Government pressed ahead.
The result? According to Cardiff University Wales Governance Centre, Wales is the only nation in the world – other than the Ukraine to impose such a ban.
Opponents of dual candidacy cling to the ‘Clwyd West’ problem – the situation when in 2003 the defeated Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat candidates all gained election to the National Assembly – via the North Wales regional list. But the ‘problem’ appears to occupy the minds of those in the political bubble much more than voters – as Arthbuthnot discovered.
Former German chancellor and architect of re-unification Helmut Kohl was himself a List Member of the Bundestag between 1982 and 1990 when he lost out in his constituency. No one questioned his mandate and it’s hard to see why dual candidacy appears to be much more of an issue in Clwyd West than it was in West Germany.
We’ve been leading the call for change. The ban on dual candidacy means that across Wales, for the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats – and to a certain extent Labour outside of its heartlands, candidates have to play a game of Russian Roulette at each election. If a party does well and increases its share of the vote, like the Conservatives did in the 2011 Assembly elections, it’s likely that additional First Past The Post constituency seats will be won at the expense of list seats. The case of Nick Bourne – then Welsh Conservative leader and Mid & West Wales AM being knocked out by a Tory victory in the Montgomeryshire constituency is one such example.
Surely that’s democracy – some people win, some people lose? In an institution as small as the National Assembly, this unpredictable churn inevitably impacts on the scrutiny of the government. Regardless of one’s political view, the National Assembly is a poorer place without Conservatives like Nick Bourne and Jonathan Morgan, and others such as Helen Mary Jones. Reversing the ban would be good for democracy and bring Wales into line with most other democracies.
The longer-term solution of course, would be to elect all Assembly Members using the same system. An Electoral Reform Society report outlined why a shift to the exclusive use of First Past The Post would damage devolution: giving one party, Labour, a supermajority of 70% of seats on just 40% of the vote.
While the Wales Office should press ahead on reversing the ban, the Wales Office needs to tread carefully on double jobbing. The UK Government is right to look at restricting this practice but maintaining flexibility is key. The Secretary of State for Wales is himself a former AM, the National Assembly is a richer place for having former Members of Parliament sat on its benches; and the same is true of the Commons. A blanket ban on double jobbing would be counterproductive and the Wales Office must explore more flexible restrictions, such as allowing up to 12 months’ overlap after parliamentary and assembly elections.
Lastly, as all parties in the Senedd agree – the power over the National Assembly’s electoral arrangements should be devolved. It’s a decision that only affects the people of Wales: and it’s a decision that should be taken in Wales. To prevent a party or coalition of parties in the Senedd with a simple majority from changing the voting system to suit their own ends, a two-thirds rule of voting AMs should apply to any changes. A referendum could be used as a final mechanism in the event of the National Assembly being unable to agree changes.