Monday, 8 February 2010

Golwg COLUMN: The price of politics

The cost of maintaining a political party is expensive. History shows that the price has often got  parties into difficulties.
The only Welsh speaking Prime Minister from Wales, David Lloyd George had some notoriety in this context. He had a fresh plan to raise money for his political fund. His cunning plan? Selling honours.
Selling honours to raise money for a party was not a new scheme. But Lloyd George changed the practice into an industry. He used a dubious ex-actor by the name of Maundy Gregory to set up an office near Parliament to drum up customers. There was a price list. A knighthood was available for £10000 a baronetcy at £30000,  elevation to the House of Lords £50000.
Inevitably, the scandal became public knowledge and there was then a parliamentary debate. In his contribution to that debate in the House of Commons,  Lloyd George said that 'that the practice was despicable,'. But privately he was of the opinion that selling honours was one of the cleanest ways of raising money for a political party.
As a response to the crisis a Royal Commission was established and as a consequence a law was passed to make the practice illegal.
But as one avenue of fund raising closes  another becomes the vogue.  Now its 'the gift' that is important. Currently, the Conservatives are under scrutiny because of the money that Michael Ashcroft, Lord Ashcroft, has given to the party.
The Election Commission are looking into one of Lord Ashcroft's companies who have given £3 million to the Conservative Party. To be within the law a company needs to be trading mostly in the United Kingdom to give to a British political party. The allegation is that most of the income of the company in question comes from the Belize. There is a ban on overseas donations and you can't use a British company as a front. We must await the verdict of the inquiry to see whether the donation is allowable.
Meanwhile, the Wales  Labour Party are in the spotlight for their fund raising activities. David Pickering, the Chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union,  issued an invitation to a private fund raising dinner for the Labour Party with the First Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales present. Nothing wrong with that you say. But he got into difficulty because he used  WRU resources to organize the event. He has subsequently apologized for this gaff.
But is that the end of the story? No, not at all.
It's not Pickering's mistake that's the issue but the price of the dinner - £1000. I guess that not many ordinary Labour Party members would be prepared to pay £1000 for the dubious honour of sitting down to dinner with Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones. No, the only people prepared to fork out such a large sum are representatives  of the business world. Why? Influence.
Is a £1000 the price for our Ministers' ears?
No, we need to completely change the way we fund political parties. Unfortunately, the only way forward is to use public money to underwrite them. Of course, this will be expensive. But who ever said democracy was cheap.

1 comment:

  1. I agree on the need to provide public funding for political parties. If that doesn't happen, people and corporations with money will gain unacceptable access. I suspect we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg here. Whenever the Taxpayers Alliance whinge about the cost to taxpayers, I think of the cost of their laissez-faire policies to us all.