Paying for parties

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 5th March 2014

With party funding in the news thanks to Labour’s special conference last weekend, we thought we’d find out what the public thinks about the relationship between money and political parties.

And it turns out that people have serious concerns.

Three-quarters of the public believe big money has too much influence on political parties, according to our research (a poll of 1,402 people carried out last week by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner).

The survey shows deep concerns about how parties are funded, and strong support for reforming the system:

  • 65% believe party donors can effectively buy knighthoods and other honours
  • 61% believe the system of party funding is corrupt and should be changed
  • 67% believe no one should be able to give more than £5,000 to a political party in any year
  • 41% agree that a state-funded political system would be fairer than the one we currently have, compared to just 18% who disagree

These findings suggest that Labour’s reforms to union funding should be the start of a wider process of change for the whole political system, not the end. A shift to small donations from a large number of donors, rather than large donations from a small number of donors, could help rebuild trust in party politics.

The public can’t stand the way big money appears to buy influence in our democracy. People are turning away from parties and politics at an alarming rate, and while the main parties remain utterly reliant on such a small number of donors there will always be the perception that something fishy is going on.

It’s time to banish big money from our politics once and for all. All the parties need to commit to capping the amount that individuals can donate, so that our politicians cannot be accused of selling influence to the highest bidder.

We already know that membership of political parties is plummeting, that fewer and fewer people are satisfied with our democracy and that voter turnout – especially in local elections – is hitting new lows. Part of the reason for this spiral of discontent is the suspicion that our political system can be bought.

When three-quarters of the public think big donors have too much influence on political parties, it’s time to act. When two-thirds believe it’s possible simply to buy knighthoods, you know something has to be done. We need a cleaner and more transparent party funding system that does not rely on a handful of sources of wealth.

We want to see all the parties make a renewed commitment to party funding reform, before the public turn away from party politics for good.

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