The news, some time ago now that the Tories are to be investigated yet again for breaking the election rules, this time through a call centre only goes to show they have so much money, they really don’t know what to do with it. Both the Information Commissioners Office and South Wales police, whose inquiry is of of “scale and significance” are investigating.
The Conservatives’ spending problems are a direct result of being very well resourced and rather suggests there are diminishing options for its legal expenditure.
And yet this deluge of funds occurs at a time when Conservative Party membership is vanishing and vanishingly small. The latest Parliamentary estimates from the House of Commons library are below (and it is indicative that the latest estimate that could be obtained from the Conservatives was from 2013):
The Labour Party has around 517,000 members, as of March 2017, which doesn’t even include all Momentum members, who were supposed either to join Labour or leave altogether by the end of July 17.
The Conservative Party had 149,800 members as of December 2013, the latest available estimate published by Conservative Campaign Headquarters.
The Scottish National Party has around 120,000 members, as of July 2016.
The Liberal Democrat Party has 82,000 members, as of February 2017.
The Green Party (England and Wales) has 55,500 members, as of July 2016.
UKIP has around 39,000 members, as of July 2016.
The Plaid Cymru has 8,273 members, as of July 2016.
The same source suggests that Trade Union membership was at 6.5 million in 2015, and we know at least a few McDonald’s workers have joined since then and thus is many times higher than party memberships. Clearly this was one of the reasons the Conservatives were so keen on the ‘opt in’ political levy.
Yet the party with a declining membership is awash with riches. Could this be anything to do with corporate donations?
It is just so easy for corporations – even when donations are over £7,500 these are simply liable to publication by the electoral commission and although the companies must be UK registered they don’t have to be actively trading! They could just serve as a funnel for funds sent from a tax haven. Clubs existing or specially set up can donate up to £24,999 without declaring it. And of course there is still no limit on monies an individual can give to a party.
It is clear that it is very much to the Conservative’s advantage to keep the corporate gravy train on their side and no wonder that they fear that 6.5 million trade unionists might allow the Labour Party to achieve a threatening level of funding.
In fact the whole idea that there should be corporate sponsors for a democratic party is anti-democratic.
Corporates do not have votes so allowing them to funnel huge sums of money into parties is the modern day equivalent of the rotten boroughs. It ensures a party reflects their interests at least as much and probably more than those of the electorate.
The wealth allows the hire of public relations services and advertising agencies so that democracy becomes something that is done to us not something we do ourselves.
It is surely time to permit party contributions solely from individuals on the electoral roll and never from anyone not on it. And to outlaw donations over say £5,000 over a year, so that no individual has excess influence through a large financial contribution. This would allow for reduced but more balanced party funding and ensure that parties had to rely on no group in particular but the electorate in general for their continued existence.
In short it would help address the democratic deficit by encouraging participation in our democracy. With no resources to pay for the electorate to be advertised at, parties would need to become more participatory. Be less of a brand and more of a set of ideas and policies.
How did corporate sponsorship manage to make us believe it should be any other way?