Home > Lobbying, Party funding > Coalition agreement and clean politics

Coalition agreement and clean politics

In the coalition agreement, there are several proposals that impact on money in politics. The agreement sets out broad principles rather than policy details, as the section on transparency includes:

We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.

We will also pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics.

As I have said before, the significance of the reforms depends on the details. The effectiveness of a register of lobbyists depends on what has to be disclosed and who is subject to it. The line on party funding refers to ‘detailed agreement.’ This was pursued under the Sir Hayden Phillips Review several years ago, but no agreement was achieved. Is there any reason to think common ground can be reached now? More importantly, something like party funding reform should not simply be hammered out through bargaining among the parties. One criticism of the Hayden Phillips Review was that it had an appearance of collusion among the leading parties. Hopefully that approach will not be taken this time. While the coalition has been criticised for referring too many issues to commissions, there is an argument that party funding would be better handled by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, just as it was in the late 1990s.

If a cap on donations can be agreed, a further sticking point is whether more state funds should be granted to aid the political parties. The parties will argue that they need such funds to make up for lost income, but in the current political and economic climate selling that policy to the public would be tough.

That said, the question of state subsidies to political parties has arisen in other contexts. The Liberal Democrats have argued that they should continue to receive Short Money, despite being in government. This argument reflects that party’s reliance on Short Money for a substantial portion of their income,  lacking the private donations of the other two parties. Public funding to the parties can also be found elsewhere in the coalition agreement:

We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament, targeted at seats which have not changed hands for many years. These funds will be allocated to all political parties with seats in Parliament that they take up, in proportion to their share of the total vote in the last general election.

The goal is to fund a new activity for the parties. The impact will depend on what is being funded and how much money is made available. Before the election, it was estimated that this pledge by the Conservatives would cost £40k per constituency. If primaries are held in 200 constituencies, this would cost £8 million in total, which represents a significant subsidy that will help the party to publicise its activities. As with other subsidies, care needs to be taken when distributing the funds to ensure that smaller parties are not put at an unfair disadvantage.

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Categories: Lobbying, Party funding
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