The Big Issues

We used to have politicians who would speak of big ideas, of change and of progress in our Country and in our politics.

 

Now we have a Prime Minister and his Deputy to discuss their Coalition relationship as being like Ronseal (It does what it says on the tin), and a Work and Pensions Secretary who accuses Labour of buying votes with tax credits. Where did we go wrong?

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The UKIP Challenge

How current UKIP supporters said they voted at the general election

The threat to Labour

1. An EU referendum on election day in May 2015 would turn out the Tory vote in huge numbers.

Entirely possible, assuming that a referendum is held on election day. A referendum could be a useful tool for the Tories in Labour/Tory marginals to ensure high Conservative turnout, and it could only be helpful in the South West Conservative/Lib Dem marginals. Conservative voters would be more enthusiastic about going to the polls in favour of a Party with a strong message on the EU and the economy, in contrast to Labour’s perceived weakness in those areas. A UKIP that is able to maintain it’s relevance in the event of a referendum could scrape off weak Labour support closer to the election (the above graph shows that to be an unlikely outcome as things stand)

2. A distraction 

Assuming that the economy does not improve, Labour’s improving reputation on economic trustworthiness would be less useful if the campaign were fought over the EU. Labour voters are (as things stand) anti-EU (see below graph), and if Labour were to take a pro EU stance in any referendum, then our own vote could be weakened; post 2010 switchers could be encouraged to defect back to the Conservatives, and hurt the significant progress that has been made since 2010. 

The threat to the Tories

1. A distraction

It is very unlikely that a referendum would be held on the same day as the next General Election the 2015 election would be turned into a single issue campaign that would only hurt the Conservatives. Not only would they be forced to take a party line on the in/out question (which would lead to an inevitable internal bloodletting) but they would be running a campaign on Europe, not the economy, which is their best chance of winning a general election, assuming that they economy improves slightly.

2. Hurting the Tory vote in marginal constituencies. 

Interestingly, an EU referendum could actually hurt the Tories most in two key areas: the Midlands and London, where the Conservatives need to win a combined additional 30 seats to claim a Parliamentary majority. London is the only region in favour of staying in the EU at the moment, favouring staying in by 41 to 40%, whilst the Midlands has the 2nd narrowest gap in favour of leaving by 34 to 49% by contrast, the South of England supports leaving the EU by a margin of 19% – 49 to 30% – meaning that they would be racking up votes in their already safe constituencies in leafy Hampshire and Surrey.

3. Party infighting.

Since becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron’s biggest threat to his leadership has been over the EU. The largest Conservative Parliamentary Party rebellions have been over the EU, both on a referendum  (81 MPs) and on the size of the UK’s contribution to the EU (53 MPs). Although perhaps not as serious a threat to the party leadership as under John Major, the pro-EU group featuring Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine are still important figures in the Conservative Party and the Coalition Government. A majority of Conservative MPs are not yet better off outers, but that point becomes closer ever week.

4. UKIP 

18% of UKIP voters would consider voting Tory. 31% of Lib voters would. Perhaps an indication of where the Tories should be looking for new votes from one of Britain’s Third Parties?

Michael Fabricant’s intervention today, where he argued that an electoral pact with UKIP would:

a) have taken the first step in being in tune with popular opinion;

b) have neutralised a UKIP threat; and
c) attenuated the politicking of the Labour party on the European Question
This proposal has been strongly rebuffed by Nigel Farage who has declared “war” on the Conservatives. Nice one, Mr Fabricant. In one great gesture you have single handily made UKIP more important, whilst getting rebuffed by them, all whilst making your own Party look weak.
Tim Montgomerie makes a persuasive case for the Tories in “dealing” with the UKIP threat:
If David Cameron doesn’t address Europe then the party will remain split on the issue and sections of our supporters will remain obsessed by it. If he does address the issue he has a chance of securing his base amongst centre right, Eurosceptic voters and can then focus on reaching out to floating voters who are most interested in bread and butter issues like the cost of living and the NHS.In Lord Ashcroft’s mega poll, it was found that of those who voted Tory in 2010, an equal proportion intend to vote for UKIP as intend to vote for Labour/LDs combined.

 

If the Tories formed an electoral pact with UKIP, they would benefit by winning roughly 20 additional seats. Just as a side note, if they went into a pact with the BNP they could gain between 11-14. Incidentally,  the likelihood of either of those things happening is pretty much equal.

5. Becoming increasingly irrelevant 

Tim Montgomerie (quoted above) argues that the Prime Minister should: “secure his base amongst centre right, Eurosceptic voters and can then focus on reaching out to floating voters who are most interested in bread and butter issues”. I suspect this is exposing Montgomerie’s own attitudes and beliefs on a referendum. If the Tories become increasingly focused on the EU and a referendum, then they will not be given an opportunity to address their already weak position on issues such as the NHS. The latest Ipsos-Mori poll puts Britain’s membership of the European Union as the top concern of just 3% of voters. 


 

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Reforming Party Funding

“We’ve got to stop this perception that parties can somehow be bought by big donations either from very rich people, or trade unions, or businesses.”

- David Cameron, speaking after the cash for honours ‘scandal’ in 2006.

I agree with the Prime Minister.

Over the last few days there has been outrage that is quite justified about the way in which the (now former) Treasurer of the Conservative Party, Peter Cruddas (who himself made a donation of £125,000 in the final quarter of 2011), invited donations of more than £250,000 so that the donor could meet David Cameron and other senior members of the Government. It was also suggested that such donors could influence policy making by the No. 10 Policy Unit, which is partly staffed by civil servants. Donors were also promised the opportunity to have dinner with the Prime Minister in his residence above No.11 Downing Street or at Chequers. It was also set out to two undercover journalists from the The Sunday Times how measures to allow overseas nationals (which is illegal under UK electoral law) could be made to the Conservative Party.

Looking back at donations made to the Tories since the General Election in 2010 you can see a number of individuals that have donated exactly £250,000 or more than that amount. (Source: Electoral Commission website). Unlike the cash for (no) honours scandal where there was no evidence of impropriety, the Sunday Times has documentary evidence that this kind of deal was offered to potential donors by the person in charge of raising funds for the Tories.

The highly charged debate in the House of Commons saw the Tories and Lib Dems attack Labour on the basis that Labour is funded by Trade Unions. Of course, to Tories and some Liberal Democrats, there is something wrong with the fact that millions of people make a choice to donate to the political fund in support of the Labour Party. That money must form the most transparent and above board ‘influence’ on any modern political party.

Despite that of course it is undeniable that in the modern world there is an expectation that donating large sums of money will provide the donor with influence of some kind, whether political or policy based influence that allows them to further their own cause. That will be true of the uber-wealthy individuals who donate to the Tories, trades union that donate to Labour and even a fraudster who donated to the Lib Dems. 

The only solution that I can see that will severely limit the influence that donors may have on our politics is to place a limit on donations – presumably this would not apply to the trades union on the basis that those bulk sums constitute hundreds of thousands of micro donations – and replace the cut in income with funding by the state. The loophole which allows foreign individuals to donate large sums of money to British parities must also be closed.

The Hayden Commision on party funding outlined a number of recommendations some years ago:

  • Capping spending for political campaigns.
  • Capping individual donations. (It has been suggested that a £50,000 limit should be applied to individuals)
  • Increasing state funding by £25m a year, linked to public support –  eligible parties should receive 50p each year for every vote cast for them in the most recent General Election and 25p for every vote in the most recent ballots for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and European Parliament.
  • Cutting spending by the largest parties between elections by £20m each.

No political consensus was achieved on those proposals. Sir Christopher Kelly’s report ”Political Party Funding – Ending the Big Donor Culture” identified a number of recommendations that should be implemented after this scandal (which was avoidable):

  • Cap donations at £10,000 per year per individual.
  • Cap expenditure and offer limited extensions of state funding.
  • Accept that trade union money is different if, and only if, each individual trade union member payment to the party is made more transparent.
  • Greater openness on what is being spent and a recognition that parties will need to be more efficient and spend less overall.
  • New regime to be regulated by the Electoral Commission to regulate the new regime.

These proposals are sensible. They may be difficult politically as it would cost each voter 50p per year. All that we can hope is that the cost argument is not used to kill these reforms. Of course, opposition parties are already partly funded by the state – Labour receives Short Money, Cranborne Money and grants to aide policy development.

Had a system of state funding been implemented then the Tories would not be in the uncomfortable position that they find themselves. The cash for honours ‘scandal’ would have been avoided because party bosses would not be under such pressure to bring in money. Individuals would no longer be able to buy influence to further their own agenda.

It is time that Labour and the Tories put aside our own interests to genuinely act in the national interest. The public are best served by politicians who listen to the public rather than to a select few wealthy individuals.

Politicians must put the country first. State funding is the way that vested interests can be removed from the political process.

NB: Peter Watt sets out here why these reforms are needed based on some cold, hard facts about British politics.

 

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