Tasteless money-grabbing

The Tories have failed to prevent an £8.3m bequest to them being overturned on the grounds of mental illness. The details are unimportant; while I feel that it's unfortunate that the Conservatives felt the need to contest what seems, prima facie, a clear, if tragic, case. It is not, though, the Conservatives that, in this instance, I am accusing of 'tasteless money-grabbing'; rather, it is the system that forces parties to go after every last penny.

I am no advocate of state funding of parties, but the financial situation of the parties is parlous, opening them to undue influence from single individuals. A good start would be for the parties to stop advertising on billboards. Quite apart from, as Adlai Stevenson put it, that "the idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process", I'm not sure that it's effective; the image a party presents is developed over the parliament preceding an election, not in the few short weeks leading up to it. It may even be self-defeating, as people are probably smart enough to realise that if political parties believe they can secure votes with a clever logo or a catchy slogan, they're probably not going to be doing detailed, community-based policy formulation.

A rather better solution would be for the parties - all parties - to focus on membership. We could all learn a useful lesson from Howard Dean, who, with average donations of less than US$80 in the famously moneyed world of American politics, beat the previous Democratic record for single-quarter donations by US$4.5m (the previous record of US$10.3m having been held since 1995 by one William Jefferson Clinton). Beyond the financial factor, I am of the opinion that one friend saying that they are a member of a party and are voting for it is worth more than a party political broadcast and that a knock at the door - which requires motivated people to do the knocking - is worth more than an election address.

Of course, to do that, you have to show that it's worth the party member's while; I'd suggest, for various reasons that we're all familiar with, that this is not happening at the moment.


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