Friday, October 12, 2012

Strangled by the Duopoly

This post originally appeared on the Rupert’s Read blog. Rupert is a leading figure in the Green Party and lead candidate for the Eastern Region in the 2014 European Elections. The question is this. Is Rupert merely trying to change the system to suit his own and his party’s political ambitions or is there something much more fundamental being proposed here? And if there is and it is not to the advantage of the existing Duopoly what chance is there of any worthwhile change being adopted? Discuss.

Why should the public purse fund a two-party political elite?

A new report that I've co-authored, on party funding, argues that the problems of a failing political system need urgent attention and that only then can the question of equitable party funding be resolved.

The report, published by the independent think tank Green House (that I chair), is being launched on 13th October, at a conference in London timed to mark the exact 40th anniversary of the meeting that led to the creation of Britain's Green Party. Strangled by the Duopoly argues that if we take the needs of voters as our starting point, instead of simply serving the existing party system, this will take us beyond isolated discussions of how parties are funded to the wider crisis of UK democracy – including questions of electoral system, participation-rates and corporate power:
  • We're at the point where twice as many people don't vote for the two main parties as do, despite the fact that only these two parties can lead a government.
  • The 'marginal problem' is getting worse; the number of Labour-Conservative marginals has fallen from an average of 160 in the period 1955-66 to just 86 in 2010-16. As the number falls so fewer and fewer voters exert greater amounts of power and are courted more and more intensively by elite parties.
  • This leaves our democracy unable to respond to rapid social, economic, demographic and environmental change, governed instead by two parties deeply rooted in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Polling indicates that where ordinary people favour state funding they do so to the extent that it takes away the influence of the big funders – and that clearly includes the Trades Unions.
  • There is nothing contradictory about the public being opposed to both large donations and to increased state funding. Seeking to end the corrupt culture of the big donors and refusing to give further money to the governing parties that have ceased to represent anything more than a small minority of the population is a consistent position and one that dove tails with low electoral turnouts.
The Green House report recommends that:
  1. any state funding for political parties must be based primarily on parties' membership levels and be paid to constituency parties, not central party offices
  2. local government be afforded the level of autonomy that it enjoyed until the 1980s
  3. the Milliband donation cap of £5,000 be adopted
  4. theTrade Union levy be made an opt-in.
  5. those parties in receipt of state funding offer a genuine participation in policy creation to members, including subsidized access to party conferences.
  6. that voters, in the same way that Trades Union members can donate to a political levy to the party of their choice, should be able to donate a 'per-vote' contribution to the registered party or to no party at all if they do not wish.
It is our contention in this report that any reform of party funding that does not include these measures will be little more than window-dressing and – as such – a time-wasting precursor to the next funding scandal. To read the full report Click!

This Report will be launched at the Green House conference, The future of green politics in the UK on 13th October. University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London. 9.30am to 5.00pm. Contributors include Caroline Lucas MP, Roger Scruton, author of Green Philosophy and Michael Jacobs former special advisor to Gordon Brown and visiting Professor of Climate Change, LSE.

Editor's Note: The meeting 40 years ago and referred to above was organised by two fed up Conswervatives.

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