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Debate: State funding of political parties

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Should political parties be publicly funded rather than by individual or corporate donors?

Background and context

(This topic has been written from a UK perspective, but the arguments can easily be adapted to apply to the situation in other countries too.) At the moment, parties are funded by donations and contribution, from business and industry as well as members of the public. The funding of politicians has had a great effect in recent times, with allegations of ‘sleaze’ being crucial in undermining John Major’s Conservative government in the 1990s. The question is whether we believe the present system of private funding is the best available, or whether a system whereby parties are funded by the state is preferable.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Corruption is one of the most damaging elements in politics, as it involves a democratically elected representative serving his own interests rather than those of the people he was elected to serve. Sleaze brought down Major’s government, and the Ecclestone affair damaged Blair’s credibility immensely (Blair exempted Formula 1 racing from a ban on tobacco advertising. It was later revealed that Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 boss, had donated 1 million to the Labour party). With state funding of political parties, perhaps proportional o average opinion poll ratings, the potential for corruption would be reduced.

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No

On the contrary, state funding, with its lack of transparency to the average voter, actually encourages corruption by its complex nature. At the moment, French politics is engulfed in controversy over sleaze despite partial state funding, and British campaign spending limits are always ignored in practice. In the real world, groups will always find a way to influence politicians amenable to corruption, by secret donations to offshore accounts, or by setting up ‘research’ funds for specific concerns.

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Argument #2

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Yes

At the moment, the amount of money needed to run a successful election campaign prevents new parties, or smaller parties, even exerting their small proportion of influence on the outcome. Smaller parties are a vital part of a democracy, as they ensure that a complete spectrum of opinions is represented. The fact that the need for wealthy backers excludes them is unfair and unrepresentative; there has been many complaints about the way Lord Ashcroft is seen as one man bankrolling the Conservative party from his private fortunes, and thus exerting a disproportionate influence on politics. State funding provides a level playing field.

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No

Why should parties be funded out of the public purse when there are so many other pressing concerns, such as education and healthcare ? Why should our taxes go to parties whose policies we may not support, and who we certainly will not vote for ? Indeed, if money is being given to any party that meets a threshold of support, this will mean nationalist and extremist parties being funded by a majority who despise their views. Besides, if parties are removed from the necessity of having to raise funds, they will become more unrepresentative and more detached from the day to day political realities. The artificial level to qualify for funding makes a false distinction between the spectrum of smaller parties that exist today, and gives some disproportionate influence.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Why should parties be funded out of the public purse when there are so many other pressing concerns, such as education and healthcare ? Why should our taxes go to parties whose policies we may not support, and who we certainly will not vote for ? Indeed, if money is being given to any party that meets a threshold of support, this will mean nationalist and extremist parties being funded by a majority who despise their views. Besides, if parties are removed from the necessity of having to raise funds, they will become more unrepresentative and more detached from the day to day political realities. The artificial level to qualify for funding makes a false distinction between the spectrum of smaller parties that exist today, and gives some disproportionate influence.

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No

It is a right for anyone to be able to make a donation to a cause they strongly believe in, and to curtail this right is to curtail liberty. State funding removes thus right, and places it with unaccountable civil servants on funding committees, who set the levels at which support will be given. These are the people who decide who big a party must be to qualify for funding, and the Proposition has simply shifted responsibility away from the public to an elite. It should be the right of any individual to lend support any party he chooses

References:

Motions

  • This House Believes in State Funding of political parties
  • This House would Pay for Democracy
  • Political parties should receive funding from the state

See also

External links and resources:

Books

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