There's a good article from new blogger John Redwood in today's Telegraph calling for an end to big-money politics. Like ConservativeHome (but unlike Lord Ashcroft) the former Welsh Secretary agrees with the idea of a cap on individual donations and he opposes state funding compensating for the end of Ashcroft/ Sainsbury-size donations. Some commentators - like my good friend Iain Dale - oppose a cap on individual donations because they do not think that small, retail funding could ever cover the lost money from big donors. I'm not so sure about that in the long-term but I've always thought that political parties spend wastefully and do not need to raise as much money if they were more disciplined spenders. Mr Redwood lists some of the parties' existing favourite spending projects and is sure that we could do without them. He and ConservativeHome agree that there are big advantages in stopping all big state/ big business donations so that political parties are forced to reconnect with smaller individual donors.
There are two areas where ConservativeHome and John Redwood disagree:
- John Redwood calls for a £7.5m cap on general election expenditure. I disagree with this limitation although it will probably be some time before any party has a retail funding operation that could raise such a sum. I believe that parties should be free to spend as much as they wish if they can raise it from a diverse number of UK voters. The incumbent parties - through existing Short money funding and MPs' annual allowances - already have huge sums of money available to them to entrench their positions. If an insurgent party could raise more than £7.5m from the electorate they should be able to spend that money on toppling the established parties.
- John Redwood puts the retail fundraising emphasis on recruiting more members. That's fine but is unlikely to be adequate. The 'Bowling Alone' generation isn't going to join political parties in large numbers anymore but they will back individual candidates and single-issue campaigns on a more ad hoc basis. These campaigns can and should be internet-based. It is one of the disappointments of Francis Maude's time as Party Chairman that CCHQ has not delivered this fundraising operation.