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  1. Election 2024
21 October 2011

£10m: the price of democracy?

In the General Election Lottery, the best funded parties always deliver the most votes.

By Richard Morris

Rather excitingly, I discovered the price of democracy this week. It was printed in the Financial Times. Apparently, it’s £10m.

In the midst of allegations about mystery donations from shadowy figures funding almost-but-not-quite-official alternative foreign policies, it’s quite surprising to find anyone willing to hang so precise a figure on the value of voting. And given the hundreds of millions of pounds the UK has just invested on the military campaign in Libya, I’m sure many will want to argue with the paucity of the amount suggested.

Why £10m? Well, that’s the figure an unnamed, (and therefore unashamed), “senior Labour Party source” has suggested as a reasonable cap on individual party spending in a general election campaign.

So there you have it. If you’d like to buy a ticket to the General Election lottery, and want to have a fair chance of winning it, that’s the suggested price of entry. And remember folks, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

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That is the problem with just adding a spending cap to party funding and doing nothing else: you limit the field of horses likely to win by a clear length to — well, most likely, two.

Jonathan Freedland has just drawn an excellent analogy between Premier League football and the inequality of wealth. In the Premier League the richest clubs keep buying the best players, drawing the biggest crowds, winning the most trophies and making the most money, with which they buy the best players and so it goes on. Or as Freedland puts it, it’s “an unsustainable system where the rich win and the poor go to the wall.”

The same is exactly true of party political funding. While the Lib Dems have attracted more donations from individual and corporate donors than Labour, come May 2015, does anyone expect the Lib Dems to have the same financial muscle as Labour? One thing the Fox affair has re-emphasised is that it looks unlikely the Tories will be strapped for cash. Hence, the hegemony of the best funded parties delivering the most votes goes on.

When the Kelly Report on party funding is published in a few weeks time, I’d like to think that Cameron and Miliband will agree that merely capping the millionaires’ club is neither fair, nor healthy in a democracy where the ability of rich vested interests to fund campaigns can ensure that the winning team can only be wearing red or blue (and not yellow).

Although I’m not hopeful. After all, Messer’s Fergusson or Mancini seem unlikely to do the decent thing and give Norwich a leg up, if they can help it.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

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