Discuss the view that there should be more state funding for political parties.
Discuss the view that there should be more state funding for political parties.
Thomas Smith 6F3
Parties in the United Kingdom today are funded in a variety of ways. Parties rely on a number of things to generate income. Party membership, trade unions and donations from wealthy individuals are all examples of ways parties do this. State funding, an idea of citizens in the UK paying a sum of money to the government to bankroll parties, is a topic today that is widely debated in the political side of the nation, and many, including I, believe it to be an advance which is highly recommended in government today. The reason why it is debated is because it holds both advantages and disadvantages, with strong arguments on both sides of the debate, which will be explored in this essay.
I for one agree to the idea of state funding for the following reasons. State funding brings about a number of assets to the government. Arguably the biggest advantage is that it will largely prevent something which has been controversial and talked about for a long time- parties relying on donations from wealthy individuals. The removal of this would be effective, as it has been much speculated that those who donate a lot of money to the government can have some sort of political influence- as was with Bernie Ecclestone when he donated £1 million to the Labour Party which may (and probably did) result in a subsequent delay in the introduction of the ban on tobacco advertising in Formula 1. Such controversy in politics is simply unacceptable, hence why preventing outsiders to have a say in politics, with the help of state funding, brings about a major advantage. After all, Britain is a democracy, and fairness and justness must not be undermined.
State funding would also allow politicians to focus on representing their own constituencies. After receiving money from the people they represent in these constituencies, they would have the resources and more incentive to represent their people, who have after all effectively given money to help the MP’s. You could call state funding a natural and necessary cost of democracy- as political parties and candidates need money for their electoral campaigns and to prepare policy decisions and to pay professional staff. If a country wants to have stable political parties and/or independent candidates, some argue that they also need to be prepared to help pay for them.
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Another advantage of state funding is that poorer parties who do not receive as much income as Labour and the Conservatives (i.e. the Liberal Democrats) would finally be able to compete on a (relatively) equal financial footing, as all three parties would be getting around the same amount of money from the public and, as previously mentioned, individual donations would be prevented. This again highlights the essence of fairness in British democracy today. Another advantage of state funding worth mentioning is that with state funding, the public can encourage or demand changes in how the country is run. In the same way as donations from wealthy individuals come with demands on party or candidate behaviour and can influence political decisions, the public can use state funds that they themselves pay to level the playing field and encourage (or force) political parties to undertake certain reforms, hold internal elections or field a certain number of women candidates, youth or persons from an ethnic minority on their ballots, for example, as it is all their own choice, due to the fact that it is them that paid the government, and so they should be able to get a say in how it is run. Again, this is what a real democracy would be like as it would show “power to the people”. It links in with the fact that public funding helps decrease the distance between political elites (party leadership, candidates) and ordinary citizens (party members, supporters, voters), because when political parties and candidates do not depend on their supporters or members neither for monetary contributions (membership, donations) nor for voluntary labour, they might be less likely to involve them in party decisions or consult their opinions on policy issues, hence why the public paying money to help run the government is important.
Another reason why state funding is important is that politics and political campaigning is an increasingly costly business. While parties and candidates used to rely heavily on voluntary labour for door-to-door canvassing, they now need to pay for expensive advertising in newspapers or on posters, or buy time on radio or television to get their message through to the voters. Staff costs have risen in many political parties over the last decades, and it essential for the public to fund parties in order for parties to operate to their full potential and cover the ever-rising costs of today’s world.
On final point is that if parties and candidates are financed with only private funds from wealthy individuals, economical inequalities in the society might turn into political inequalities in government. In many countries, the support base of political parties and candidates are divided along socioeconomic lines. For example in the United Kingdom, the support base of labour and left-wing parties for example, tend to be traditionally less wealthy than the support base of other parties- i.e. the Tories(not always though). If political parties receive all their income from private donations, there is a risk that socioeconomic differences in the society will translate into differences in representation and access to political power.
On the other hand, one could say that parties being state funded is not at all a worthwhile idea, for the following reasons.
Firstly, taxpayers should not have to provide their hard-earned money to supply parties’ needs that they may not even support. The average civilian in the UK gives a generous amount of money to the government through taxation anyway, and so compulsory state funding would be simply unfair and largely unnecessary. And if they don’t support the parties, then they have no need or right to contribute money to help these parties. One could hardly see many members of ethnic minorities happy about funding the campaign of the British National Party for instance!
Also, making state funding the main source of funding would largely eliminate interest groups (i.e. trade unions for Labour). This may not be a good thing, as this could cause politicians to feel isolated with no guidance available, and guidance and help is something which is essential to politicians nowadays, as without the support of organisation they may not operate to their full potential. With state funding, parties may not be able to get as much money as they potentially could, which means that the system could stop the parties from prospering fully.
Also, state funds to political parties and candidates take money away from schools and hospitals to give to rich politicians.
When introduced, public funding is often unpopular among the public. Public resources are scarce and needed for everything from schools and hospitals to roads and salaries for staff. To many people, using state funds to give to political parties and candidates would be far down their list of priorities, hence why it would be a bad idea. Although the public would be paying the wages they certainly won't have any influence on who gets how much, despite providing the money it will be the politicians and candidates, and not public, who will be creating the decisions.
Also, despite the claims from the “for” side of the argument that state funding would be fairer for smaller parties, there is an inevitable flaw. Many people have touted the idea of linking state funding to the number of votes won by the party. There is a fundamental flaw with this approach - richer parties can run bigger campaigns. This may let them secure more votes, and therefore more state funding, making them even richer. The effect reinforces the cause - small parties would find it hard to grower under this system.
The introduction of state funding would mean that parties might no longer make such strenuous efforts to raise money. Under state funding the need for fund raising would be non-existent and therefore one of the most important local party member activities would be stopped. This would discourage membership of political parties and therefore reduce the amount of political participation by normal citizens and cause the political process to become further alien to the electorate and perhaps reduce turnout further.
The vital role of MPs is to represent their constituents and the vital role of the government is to represent the nation. If money came from the state there is a danger that political parties in this country would use state funding to advance their own ends and not represent the people who voted them in. Even if this was not the case, it could well become the public perception of the situation and further alienate the public from the political process. Clearly, this is not at all a positive attribute hence why state funding could be seen as a bad thing to implement.
Evidently both sides of the argument have strong reasons why state funding should/should not be introduced in the United Kingdom. On the one hand it would make the democratic process fairer, as all parties would supposedly receive the same amount of money and would be on a level-playing field with the “Big-boys” (Labour and Conservatives). However this statement can be argued against- bigger parties naturally get more votes, which means they may get a larger share of the state funding given out; which nullifies the idea that it is fair.
Somebody who is against state funding could argue that people in the UK get taxed enough, and so shouldn’t have to pay their own money toward parties they may not even care about. However this argument can be challenged by the fact that without state funding, corruption (as seen with Ecclestonegate) will remain a key issue and that the parties are working to the benefit of their rich business backers and not representing the will of the people, and that with state funding they will work to represent the people as they are the providers of the money, and so will focus solely on them, as it should be in a democracy. However once again even this counter-argument can be countered, because if state funding were to be introduced, then the parties would not have to work as hard to gain money from their party members, which could in turn result in MP’s not fully representing the people who voted them in, possibly causing the public to feel detached from the political process, which is totally not what the government want to happen.
Although state funding has some clear advantages and disadvantages to the way the country is run, it is my opinion that the benefits of state funding outweigh the disadvantages- the elimination of corruption in a democracy is simply essential as is economic equality and fairness and representation within parties in the United Kingdom, so that smaller parties -which are a vital part of a democracy as they ensure that a complete spectrum of opinions is represented- are represented, so that just like in a proper democracy all voices can be heard. It is for these, and other, strong reasons that I agree to the idea of implementing the system of state funding in the United Kingdom today.