My Telegraph column today looks at the White Paper on political party funding and in particular the proposal to prevent candidates spending money in advance of an election campaign. Here's an excerpt.
This week, Justice Secretary Jack Straw pledged to commit the biggest act of gerrymandering since Caligula made his horse a senator, yet it received scant attention. Straw wants to prevent prospective Conservative candidates in marginal seats from spending money in advance of an election campaign... Being a candidate in a marginal seat rates second only to being Boris Johnson's diary secretary as the most nightmarish job in politics. It has a potentially enormous long-term reward, but party workers have wild expectations: they demand you buy a house locally, that you generate acres of media coverage, that you spend every waking hour door-knocking and that you single-handedly raise all the money to finance your campaign - or pay for it yourself... Most candidates don't receive a penny from Central Office. If they want to tell the electorate their views or achievements, they have to pay for a leaflet. Even those receiving money through the target seat campaign, which Lord Ashcroft partially funds, have to find at least 90 per cent of the spending themselves...
Labour wishes to silence candidates in advance of an election, but if they are not allowed to spend money, how can they communicate with electors? Many local newspaper editors refuse to cover candidates before an election, partly because they don't wish to upset the MP, with whom they usually want to foster good relations. So without finance to pay for leaflets a candidate is rendered mute.
Incumbents will become ever more powerful. MPs have a "communications allowance" of £10,000 a year to tell the electorate how wonderful they are. Straw's plans would make it impossible for new candidates to compete. This will inhibit political dialogue.
If Jack Straw thinks that donations from one person skew that process, there is a simple remedy. He could take up David Cameron's proposal of capping individual donations at £50,000... He won't. His trade union paymasters won't let him: 92 per cent of Labour's funds are raised from trade unions. A cap of £50,000 on union donations would render the Labour Party virtually bankrupt. Without the good offices of Lord Levy, fund-raising among business has all but dried up. In politics, money follows success.
Read the full article HERE.