Friday, June 20, 2008

Telegraph Column: Jack Straw is Like Caligula

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.


Anonymous said...

Never mind conceits about Jack Straw and Caligula - what about DD sayin, twice I think, on Question Time that he didn't expect he would be wanted back on the Tory front bench.

What gives?

David Boothroyd said...

If it's so odious to apply spending limits throughout a Parliament and not just at election times, how come this was the law from the 19th century until 2000?

A cap on donations should apply to associations by multiplying the cap by the number of members, so for instance if the cap is £1,000 then a union with 100,000 political levy-payers would be limited to £100m. That would be fair; anything else would treat people badly because they banded together.

Anonymous said...

I've never been an election candidate so I don't know -- but do local newspapers really deliberately fail to cover PPCs before an election is called? Of course, the bad ones stick in press releases (some of them copy and paste jobs from party HQ) just because they have a Commons crest on them. And then there are fete openings, etc. But in my days as a local hack I never came across anyone who wanted to silence opposition candidates with a good story to tell, just because they wanted to keep onside with the sitting MP...

Anonymous said...

Or, you know, the individuals could donate like everyone else. If they want to give £1000, they should do it themselves.

Anonymous said...

I would expect a wall of corruption from the Labour Party as they try to stay in power.

Conservative MPs should expect to be arrested, as Broon justifies his socialist ends to means.

Anonymous said...

Then why did Labour change the rules, DB?

And prior to 2000, incumbents didn't have generous communications allowances.

Tapestry said...

Labour have gone barmy - or at last Gordon Brown has who must be involved with this. First they press on and ratify a Treaty that is already void. Now they want to stop opponents from running campaigns against them.

I think it's time that the joke was brought to an end.

Bottling and bullying in sequence and combination. It's pathetic.

I cannot see Brown lasting another 42 days.

Anonymous said...

Still no mention of Europe.

The elephant in the room just gets bigger.

Anonymous said...

If Straw goes ahead with such a proposal, then, expect revenge to be sweet if (as likely) we have a Conservative Government within two years.

Just think of the 'modest' changes the Conservatives could do which would result in massive party advantage.
i) Make the political levy paid by union members an opt in process rather then opt out.
ii) Stop postal voting on demand
iii) Introduce individual voter registration.
iv) change the remit of the Boundary Commission to incorporate a requirement for equalisation of active electorates.

Tim Hedges said...

er..wasn't it a consul that he made his horse?

Anonymous said...

I'm all for limits on donations but with labour in debt and government little can be done.

If we win the next election, Cameron should give labour the public opportunity to accept, if they fail he should go into overdrive with the fundraising and force labour to accept.

If the parties have to rely on a broader membership, this will be beneficial to politics and eliminate no go areas as parties compete for members.

At present the tories are invisible in my constituency and are doing nothing about it.

Matthew Cain said...

Spending limits are essential and do not compromise the ability of PPCs to communicate with the electorate.

Yes, trade union donations need to be addressed as part of a wider cap on donations.

But donation caps without spending caps just encourages abuse and vice versa.

Political parties need to address this issue together and the sort of deliberately misinformed article such as this does nothing to tackle the long term problems that all parties face. The Conservatives will discover how awkward the relationship with Ashcroft is as soon as it's in government.

Anonymous said...


The inequalities go much further. In a General Election television/radio political broadcasts are given to the number of MP's, MEP's etc. a party has.Also the number of candidates, I believe, figures!

Therefore if. for the argument, David Davis was not elected but started his own LIBERTY Party, he would not be allowed air time. He would be subject to the same restrictions on funding. He, in effect, would not have a chance.

The whole system is wrong. It is wrong that politicians set their own rules, on political grounds. This should be a matter, say, for retired Judges to decide on proper formulae.

This is another example of how the Labour Party are out to control. I have jokingly said that this lot will not allow another general election! I am worried that statement may well be turning out to be true.

Good article.

Letters From A Tory said...

The whole process is designed to give Labour one last chance at holding onto their seats. This isn't about improving the electoral process or opening up politics to wider audience, it's about Labour digging in their heels and taking a shot at Ashcroft.

Newmania said...

New Labour have undermined democracy in numerous ways what has actually happened is that the cross Party consensus that office should not be used to sustain power has been broken. There is nothing as important as preventing the misuse of office to perpetuate an elite ( See Zimbabwe and the EU)
Labour abuse of office
1 Selling Honours directly for Party funding
2 The creation of dependency for no other reason that the creation of Labour voters . Tax Credits . Swollen Public Sector Management
3 The allocation of two votes to Scotland and Wales Labour heartlands
4 The acquisition by the Public of Northern Rock sto save the NE heartland
( Southern Rock....forget it )
5 The constant threat of so called “Constitutional Change headed often s not by man of Straw “ The design would be a form, of AV designed to produce a permanent Left wing majority which failed in London but only just.
6 The use of such gerrymandering in new assemblies
7 The importing of mass immigration into Conservative areas where 2 million of the 3000000 new houses will be occupied by immigrants yet to arrive and 12 of the 15 eco slums are in Conservative areas
8 The diversion of funds from Conservative areas to urban centers noticed in Post Offices
9 Closing Hospitals disproportionately in Conservative areas
10 Lying about the Treaty, colluding with the EU to implement it anyway which has already been more or less achieved
11 Delaying the boundary commission whenever possible
And much more
When you add it all up what you see is a breakdown of the understanding in our unwritten Constitution that power will not be used simply to retain power.

. New Labour are like a cancer attacking the very institutions they inhabit .I see there was a new cure for cancer in which healthy white cells adept at attacking the growths were cloned from the patient and reinjected into the body to kill the disease . This is exactly what we are doing here and in the blogasphere. Making healthy minds to save the country form its sickness.

Anonymous said...

"Straw's plans would make it impossible for new candidates to compete. This will inhibit political dialogue."

How can you possibly consider those awful, laughable leaflets from political parties "political dialogue"?

Candidates SHOULD be knocking on doors, holding meetings and standing in shopping centres - that's political dialogue.

Newmania said...

Boothroyd ...your just so stories are as irrelevant as ever.We begin to see that by the phrase "Conservative victory is psephologically impossible " you meant. ..because the Labour Party will cheat. Go back to your Northern Public school and win the Boothroyd prize for Politics awarded in the Boothroyd rooms by Lord sodding Boothroyd for the umpteenth time.

On the unions there is nothing to stop any member giving his money to the Labour Party .If there is no unreasonable advantage in tying Labour contributions to Union protection jobs and so on..( as there quite obviously is ) , then why are you not happy with that ?

As if we did not know

Anonymous said...

I think it was Consul...

Anonymous said...

I've no problem stopping the unions, but does David Cameron really feel that someone who can afford to give 50K to a political party is just an ordinary citizen?

Stop all donations. 100% state funding. I know people go ballistic over taxes being spent on posters but it would soon be the norm. In US elections in the
19th century candidates used to sometime have to provide the ballot paper, and that was regarded as perfectly normal!

Newmania said...

PS With the advent of a free market in ideas on the web and soft funding beyond state control it could well be that the free human spirit ( The Peter Rabbit ) has once again eluded the authoritarian Mr. McGregors

Just when they have their flower pot upon us we wriggle free .


Anonymous said...

The trade unions could get round any cap on donations by treating each member's political levy as an individual donation channeled through the union.

Croydonian said...

Yup, it was a /prospective/ consul and called Incitatus.

The original is this, from Rep John Randolph referring to an appointment by Quincy Adams: "Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula’s horse was made Consul".

Anonymous said...

Labour has already shown just how corrupt a party it is - what about the £10 million of taxpayer's given to the Unions for "modrnisation" before the last election. It enabled the Unions to recycle this money in to the Labour election fund. I wonder why they did not spend their own money on modernisation ?

Anonymous said...

And Gordon wishes/knows? he was Emperor of Rome - just like the 'Lily the Pink' single of years ago!

On RTE, Irish state radio, the Irish electorate are being lambasted for not coming up with the 'correct' vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Shades of Mugabe.

Anonymous said...

"This is exactly what we are doing here and in the blogasphere. Making healthy minds to save the country form its sickness."

You're a loony, nuMania. A complety bonkers looney.

Blogsites are places where pyjama-clad loonies pass their days exchanging inane rubbish, not strange eugenic-style mind cleansers!

Alex said...

Any spending limits are a limit on free speech. If people feel strongly enough about an issue or a political position they should be entitled to commit as much resources into expressing their point of view as they like.

If you think that puts political parties in the hands of the rish, just reflect on the fact that a £1 donation from every person in the country is more than enough to fund all the election campaigns at a general election. It wouldn't surprise me if more was spent in transport costs getting to the polling station than is spent on campaigning.

If political parties want to put a halt to what they term the arms, then they should simply prohibit registered political parties from taking on borrowings, on the principle that they can only spend what has been contributed to them rather than spending money against the prospect of future contributions, which has a whiff of corruption.

Alex said...

David Boothroyd said...
"If it's so odious to apply spending limits throughout a Parliament and not just at election times, how come this was the law from the 19th century until 2000?"

It is not odious per se, because as is well known until 2001 all candidates had to do was to call themselves prospective parliamentary candidates and be formally adopted just before the election, but it is clear that Straw is just trying to wrongfoot all Conservative candidates in marginals who have already been adopted as candidates and have been investing heavily in their pre-election campaigns as they would have been allowed to do under the 2001 legislation.

To try to obtain an electoral advantage by amending the legislation to wrongfoot your opponent is poor politics and voters in marginals will recoginise Labour's deceitfulness.

Anonymous said...

Caligula brought a horse in as his senator. Ofcourse he was not the yes man everyone expected, whenever Caligula asked if to pass through legislation the horse said neigh.

Alex said...

@anonymous @10:39

"Blogsites are places where pyjama-clad loonies pass their days exchanging inane rubbish"

Stripy or patterned?

Anonymous said...

Tony Hannon at 9.41 - of course candidates should knock on doors - but be realistic.

I have spent 25 years canvassing - in Labour, Lib Dem and Tory constituencies, at a local and national level, routine and By-elections, for others and as a Council candidate for myself.

Average constituency = 40 - 45,000 doors. No matter what day or time, half the residents will be out or won't answer - so you may have to recall 3 or 4 times to get to them. Average time per door = 2 mins i.e. max 30 per hour.(Not much time for involved discussion)

So if a candidate is selected 2 years in advance of an election, works fulltime (most do - you don't get paid as a candidate) even if they were to go out 5 weekday evenings for 3 hours, and then all Saturday and Sunday, they would not reach even half their voters.

Canvassers are few and far between these days. In the recent London election we had out across the entire Tory constituency fewer canvassers then I used to have out with me at a ward level in a Labour constituency 20 years ago.

Public Meetings - in my experience the only people who attend are the earnest Christians who organise them, and party activists. Max a hundred people out of an electorate of 70,000.

Even if people do not read leaflets, they notice which parties deliver them and which don't. Generally speaking they approve of parties which deliver leaflets and dissaprove those that don't.(By-elections excepted when voters are over delivered).

Mind you it is getting difficult to find deliverers these days!

Anonymous said...

I very much agree Iain. The only point with which I take issue is this:

'A cap of £50,000 on union donations would render the Labour Party virtually bankrupt.'

Iain The Labour Party is virtually bankrupt right now.

They are certainly intellectually bankrupt. Have you noticed how the Conservative policy of Crime Mapping has become Government Policy?
I don't mind Ministers nicking our ideas, its just that they are so bad at implementing them. We need to make the Conservative thinkers the doers now! Its time for the Coca-Cola campaign, lets have 'The Real Thing'.
The Labour government want to destroy our Nation State, they have contempt for the people, our Royal Family, the rule of law and scant regard for the welfare of our armed forces.
Privy Council Members from all parties and factions should make earnest representations to the crown requesting the holding of a general election.

strapworld said...

Tapestry, I agree with you. I cannot see this rotten shower lasting the two years to the next general election. I do believe it will be sooner that they and we think.

What did Macmillan say 'Events, dear boy events' that is what will finish them orft!

Anonymous said...

10.39 said: Blogsites are places where pyjama-clad loonies pass their days exchanging inane rubbish, not strange eugenic-style mind cleansers!

Mr/Mrs/Ms Anon, May I be the first to welcome you to our illustruious and exclusive club then?

Newmania said...

I cannot see Brown lasting another 42 days.

I agree Mr. Tapestry he has detained us for far too long already.

Anonymous said...

Surely Staw is more like Claudius, lurking in the shadows waiting til the rest have murdered each other before making his move.

And its working, we just don't notice him any more.

Bill Quango MP said...

if the cap is £1,000 then a union with 100,000 political levy-payers would be limited to £100m?

or a business enterprise like PWC with 148,000 or BA with 48,000 or 380,000 Tesco members worldwide,
could all fill Conservative or Lib Dem coffers?

Ahh, this shoddy "keep the Union Power, cut the Tories funds" , proposal is unraveling.

If you need money do what Obama did and go to the people to get it. What's that .. they don't want to know? Too bad.

The Union Modernisation was a disgraceful act of shovelling money into the Labour furnace.
the fact it's denied means nothing.
Brown denies everything from reading the polls, to bribing MP's To the true rate of inflation or the tax take of the country.

DES: Neigh. Very Good

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Iain, and brilliant post newmania!

In fact your list of erosions of our democracy is so good, n, that I'm going to nick it, or most of it, if that's ok with you.

Just got home - from working late, yet again, on yet another mountain of unnecessary and negligently drafted bureaucracy, solely designed to make grossly overpaid Micky Mouse jobs for nulab's payroll vote.

I need an ace list like this and am too knackered to put one together. So if I may, I'll just cut and paste it over to the site of that smug twit Tom Harris

How dare Mr smug Harris sit there - on £92k pa plus £156k tax free expenses pa - and have the nerve to lecture us, the ones on the sharp end of the recession he and nulab have so menufactured!

"Why are Britons so bl**dy miserable?"

asks Mr Champagne Socialist Harris MP. Now he wonders why his site is paralysed with angry responses.

Come on you Englanders, this is the Alamo, English style. Join the siege of Tom Harris!

Hang down your head, Tom Harris,
Hang down your head and cry,
Hang down your head, Tom Harris
Nulabour's gonna die!

Anonymous said...

the trade union "modrnisation" fund was actually used for courses for staff (union and non union)

such as in my own union "patient care and dignity" cross public and private and vol sector to improve care standards

happy to give more details

Anonymous said...

my union actually accepted nil pay incraese in the NHS, because of inflation etc

praise from The Sun and The Times but little from the Conservatives

Our union is working with local Tory Mps and councillors to defend the hospitals

thanks for the recognition

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, Caligula never made his horse a Senator, he merely threatened to, to point out his power to the Senate!