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Tim Ambler: The public overwhelmingly rejects taxpayer funding for political parties

Ambler Tim2Tim Ambler is Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute.

Last week, Sir Christopher Kelly's committee on political funding claimed that it was essential for democracy that taxpayers collectively should fund our political parties. Predictably, the committee came up with this conclusion without asking the general public whether they agreed, and nor did they propose any referendum or polling to see whether this major change to the constitution is in fact one that the public feel happy with.

Well, the Adam Smith Institute has done it for them. We commissioned ICM Research to poll taxpayers on the issue, asking them:

"Do you think that political party funding should come mainly from taxes or do you think it should remain as it is now, with funds from party members, businesses, trade unions and wealthy individuals."

You might think that dropping into the question those widely-hated groups – businesses, trade unions and wealthy individuals – would have had the public fleeing into the arms of government funding. Not a bit of it. The results were as follows (with the answers to the same question in 2002 in brackets):

  • Party funding should remain as it is now 71% (58%)
  • Party funding should come mainly from taxes 16% (26%)
  • Don't know 13% (16%)

In other words, the public were against the proposals in 2002 and are even more against them now.

Perhaps the figures reflect the fact that the public are fed up to the back teeth with their politicians and see no reason why they should be compelled to give them money. Particularly when we already pay quite enough tax and when few of us have much spare cash to go round.

Perhaps they know, also, that the bulk of the taxpayers' cash that would go to party funding would inevitably end up in the hands of the biggest parties. So it would be shoring up the big parties, boosting the established political operators, making it even harder for other people with fresh ideas to get a look in. The last thing we want right now is to subsidise the political class. We want to make it easier for new people and parties to come through – people who are not professional politicians, but who actually have some experience of the world outside politics and are prepared to challenge the received views of the Westminster elite. 

Public funding would always flow to whichever parties were strong in the past. And that will crowd out support for the parties and movements that could shape tomorrow. No wonder that over two-thirds of the public think that Sir Christopher Kelly's idea should be consigned to the dustbin. 

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1030 adults aged 18+ from its online panel between 25th and 27th November 2011. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. See for more information.


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