Friday, February 02, 2007

Should Taxpayers Pay For Political Parties?

Did an item for Sunday's 'Politics Show' on state funding of political parties today. I teamed up with Plaid Cymru's Helen Mary Jones. The idea was that we waylaid innocent members of the public who were just out for a stroll in Cardiff Bay - and then set about persuading them that part of their taxes should be used to fund political parties. Don't know why they asked us - but the Beeb said it was because we are two of the most 'persuasive' AMs. Anyway, here's a taste of the sales patter (at least my interpretation) - which turned out to be remarkably successful.

"We're upset that all you voters think we are a self-interested bunch of shysters who have our noses in the trough because of all the Blair/Levy shenanegins about 'Loans for Peerages' All these arrests are giving us all a bad name - even those of us who are as straight as a nail. So we want to stop any individual or organisation (especially a filthy rich steel magnate or a trade union, for example) giving zillions to a political party, by capping donations at say £50,000. We want to stop it appearing as if anyone is buying influence. And we want to ban these secret loans as well. Now this will probably mean that none of us will be able to afford to clutter up the countryside with those massive tasteless posters at election time or buy boring advertising space in national newspapers. And just to make sure, we want to put a cap on how much a political party can spend on an election, at a much lower level than now. But of course, we cannot function as political patries without a certain level of finance - so we think the state should give our parties some taxpayer's money (just a little bit!). Now we are not suggesting that this should be wasted on anything frivolous, but should be confined to things like policy forums or IT or worthy things - and the money should have to be approved by some independent body like the Electoral Commission. If you are willing to give us a bit of your money, it will remove the temptation for any of our parties to stoop to suspect practices. Please."

Now, believe it or believe it not, all but two agreed that state funding was a good idea, and one of these two thought that buying policy was so ingrained a political practise that we might as well just grin and bear it. In truth, Helen Mary and I didn't put it quite in these terms but we must have been pretty damn persuasive. I was expecting a much more negative response. I have to admit that I have some doubts about state funding myself. But simply discussing it with randomly selected members of the public has gone some way to persuading me that it would not be a bad idea. I still don't think the public would wear it, if it was put up as a serios proposition.

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