Away from the on-going turmoil of the eurozone crisis and the faltering economic recovery, the long-running saga of funding politicians has just seen its latest development. The Committee for Standards in Public Life – set up in the mid-1990s after a series of scandals – has just published its report on party financing. It recommends the capping of donations, limits to trade union funding and the creation of a system of centralised funding, based on votes received.
The outline of such a proposal has been clear for a long time, balancing as it does the concerns of the various political parties involved. One might hope that they will now accept the report and its recommendations and close what has been debate characterised more by rent-seeking than high principle. While it has not been the most important part of political debate in recent decades, the expenses scandal of 2009 simply underlined the unsatisfactory arrangements at present and the need for a fundamental rethink. Indeed, one could argue that the inability of politicians to get over themselves on this issue has contributed to their generally very low levels of public trust. Moreover, it’s difficult to see what would make for an alternative model of funding.
But just because something appears obvious, it doesn’t make it inevitable. Given that two members of the Committee submitted dissenting views, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever if this report got parked by the government, on the grounds of causing more trouble than it was worth. That might make sense in the narrow calculations on Whitehall, but in the meantime, it would simply serve to confirm people’s suspicions about politicians.