Roses and Thorns
This week the government will formally announce final plans to slash public funding for opposition parties in Parliament.
According to the Independent today, the formula for calculating how the money is given to parties with fewer than six MPs will be ‘reworked’ – in other words, their money will be disproportionately cut. It’s an incredibly backwards step.
UKIP received nearly four million votes last year, but ended up with only one MP. The Greens received over a million votes and likewise ended up with just one MP. Slashing their funding is an affront to those millions of voters who were not fairly represented.
Currently, Short money – allocated in large part on the basis of number of votes rather than just seats – partially compensates for our woefully disproportionate voting system. Making it less proportional is hugely regressive given that we are now a pluralistic, multi-party democracy, with a need for a strong and diverse opposition.
Polling for us by BMG Research at the end of last year showed that 57% of the public think a publicly-funded political system would be fairer than the big-donor dominated one we have now. And this cut will do nothing to improve people’s perceptions of politics being stitched-up by the big parties.
Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account, so this cut could be deeply damaging for accountability. Indeed, an OECD report recently released shows that Britain already has one of the lowest proportions of public funding for parties among developed countries, spending just a tenth of the European average.
The whole party funding system is a complete mess as it is, but this measure risks making it worse. By reducing public money from the mix, this cut risks making parties even more reliant on big donors – with all the potential for corruption that entails.
Until we see a cap on donations and a lower spending limit, taking away public money from opposition parties will just make things worse.
Let’s hope the government think again and stand up for the millions whose voices were ignored last May.
It’s not an opportunity that comes up very often, so this is an important one: this Wednesday, MPs will have a chance to back proportional representation in Parliament.
May 7th was the most disproportionate General Election result in British history – so it’s about time there was a proper debate in Parliament on switching to a fairer voting system.
The ‘Representation of the People (Proportional Representation) Bill‘ will come before the House of Commons on Wednesday. Proposed by Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds, the ‘Ten Minute Rule Motion’ – a form of Private Members’ Bill – is a great opportunity to put PR on the agenda.
There’s just a couple of days to build some momentum behind it – so it’s vital we take action today. The Electoral Reform Society are asking supporters to write to their MPs to ask them to back the Bill and to build some public support behind it.
At the crux of the issue is this: multi-party politics is here to stay, but our old-fashioned two-party system can’t cope with the choices of modern voters. We clearly need a much fairer voting system.
We’re not alone in saying it either – in May, nearly half a million people signed petitions calling for a proportional voting system, joined by five party leaders from across the spectrum, while 61% of people back reform.
Sadly, as it’s a non-government Bill it’s not very likely to pass – but rallying behind it will really help keep the issue on the agenda.
The Bill isn’t perfect: it proposes using the Additional Member System for Westminster elections, rather than our preferred Single Transferable Vote, a proportional system that maximises voter choice. But it does represent a chance for positive change.
As the ERS say in our letter to MPs, “AMS is a tried and tested system, is simple and clear, and is used both in the UK and around the world. It has been shown to let the public kick out unpopular governments, and ensures that governments can’t be elected with tiny majorities. Politics has become far more multi-party since 2010, but our out-dated First Past the Post system cannot keep up with how people’s voting habits have changed.”
Crucially, this Bill is also a chance to find out what MPs think about PR – we can build up a strong database so that we know where they stand and so we can improve our Parliamentary work to keep putting democratic reform on the agenda. We want this Bill to go to the next stage – and while it may not pass, the more support the Bill has outside of Parliament the more support it could have within, too.