The donor dining debacle is deeply embarrassing for the government. More state funding for political parties is the only solution to the problems it raises
Suppergate may be providing further discomfort for the Tories after last week’s budget ineptitude. And plenty of indignant outrage will flow from those not involved, not least at the ludicrous figure of Peter Cruddas and his attempt to sell the most expensive dinners around.
Yet supporters of democratic politics can neither afford the comfort of righteous indignation nor the cheap laughs that the incident provokes. Once again we can see how important it is to grasp the nettle of state funding for political parties. For, the truth is that each time an incident such as this emerges it further dents party politics. And that is bad for democracy as a whole.
I have long argued that greater state funding for political parties is the only way forward, and these events strengthen my view. It is true that at least we now know how the parties are funded. All the parties have come unstuck as a result of their reliance on large donors.
Of course, there’s a good case for capping the amount parties can receive from a single donor – and doing so closer to £5000 than £50000; just as there’s a case for capping constituency spending all year round. But this inevitably descends into party political knockabout: this time we may be enjoying Cameron’s discomfort, but he is not the first party leader to face such controversy. Greater state funding must be the answer. The Labour government should have bitten the bullet on all this years ago; Nick Clegg should certainly insist that his coalition partners do so now.
And for the benefit of those who think the taxpayer shouldn’t fund political parties, don’t forget they already do, and on a much greater scale now than before 1997. In 2011/12, according to the House of Commons library, the opposition parties received £6.5m in so-called ‘short money’ with nearly £600k more for party work in the House of Lords. There are also policy development grants to help develop manifesto policies. Party funding is now worth more than three times as much per Commons seat as it was in 1997.
So, all the parties should call a truce on this issue. Labour should accept that the unions fund the party too much, and find a more direct link to individual union members. The Tories should axe big donations. And the taxpayer should pay a little more to protect something that people the world over risk their lives for – and bring an end to charades like we have seen played out this weekend once and for all.
This blog first appeared on Conor’s Commentary