Donations are back in the news, with some £20 million being raised by political parties in the last quarter of 2014. These sorts of stories tend to hurt each party about the same – whether it is union gold lining Labour’s coffers or billionaire businessmen bidding for shopping trips with Theresa May at Tory balls. When people think of funny political money, they’re all as bad as each other.
There is a huge amount wrong with the current system of party funding. It is wholly inappropriate for trade unions to have the power to stitch up selections and blatantly buy policy because of their financial clout within the Labour Party.
It is also completely wrong when Tory governments commission reports on, say, employment law from a donor, when that donor has a key interest in employment law. It is pretty much downright corrupt when, for example, the Liberal Democrats accept massive donations from a nightclub owner and then reward him with a peerage.
Hypocrisy, backroom deals and cash-for-peerages are all wrong, but journalists are actually pretty good at exposing them and holding power to account. We tend to find out when our politicians get up to these tricks. It is wrong, but it is also transparent and accountable. If we feel strongly about a particular dodgy donor issue, we can vote to punish those responsible.
What would be worse is if the current system of private funding was replaced with state funding of politics. How would a UKIP supporter feel having their hard-earned cash going towards re-electing Nick Clegg? How would a true blue Tory feel about their taxes paying to help get Ed Miliband into Downing Street?
For all that we don’t like about the current system, at least we can see what is happening and have the power to act upon it at the ballot box. Making the taxpayer pay for politics would be a far more shoddy outcome.