Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Don't Political Parties Raise More Money Online?

Several weeks ago I asked you to vote in a poll which was all about the future impact of technology on politics. Orange asked the same questions through Total Politics of every elected politician in the country. More than 2,700 of them took part. Perhaps the most interesting result from the poll was that 75 per cent said they agreed in future parties must win most of their funding through large numbers of small donations. Liberal Democrats expressed the fullest support with 82 per cent agreeing on the need for change, with the Conservatives on 76 per cent and Labour on 74 per cent. The figure for readers of this blog was 74%.

The question is, how is this going to happen. None of the political parties in this country are actively marketing online donations. The Conservatives spent a huge amount of money (I'm told £500,000) trying to persuade people to become 'Friends of the Conservative Party' rather than full members. Only a couple of hundred people signed up. Not exactly great value for money. But if a limit of £50,000 is imposed on individual donations, the shortfall is going to have to be made up from other sources - one of which must be online.

There is a school of thought which thinks it is not possible in this country to attract a myriad of small donations from individual donors. The David Davis by-election provides some counter evidence, although that was a one off rather than an ongoing campaign asking for money. People will also cite pressure groups or charities like the RSPCA who, as well as being mass membership organisations, also have a substantial online donor base. If they can do it, why can't political parties?

In addition, people point to the USA and see the huge amounts of money being raised on individual campaigns and think, 'well, if they can do it, why can't we?' Part of the reason is that there is a much more embedded culture of philanthropy, even among the less well off. But the political culture is also different. It is far more geared to a permanent campaign for an individual candidate rather than a political party. Politics is far less centralised. There is no reason why that won't change here, but it will be a long term change of culture, rather than something which will happen immediately. But if it is to happen, the parties must want it to happen and take proper advice. The Tories have so far wasted huge amounts of money on their online operations, at least in part because they have not taken that advice. But the other parties aren't any further ahead in this area.

I suspect the marketing expert who comes up with an answer to this question will become very rich.


Anonymous said...

There is something in what you say - maybe political parties would be better off when canvassing getting e-mail adresses. Frankly I think sending paper requests for money expensive and a waste, they would be better off calling people to tap them for cash - harder to say no on the phone!

Old BE said...

The reason that the parties don't have mass appeal is that elections are decided by such a small number of voters in key constituencies. Why would people knowing their vote makes no difference give money to a party whose policies are dictated by opinion polls in far-off constituencies?

Prodicus said...

I have asked CCHQ countless times to put a PayPal Donate button on their site. Not difficult. Any idiot can do it. Every time, the answer has been somewhere between 'Eh?' and 'No'.

I cannot think of a single reason they would not just DO this. Traceability? What - for the odd tenner?

Their loss. Mine too, though, if they end up in a hung Parliament looking across the aisle at Brown and Clegg in a sort of anti-Tory three-legged set-up.

Get on with it!

Anonymous said...


Yes you put your finger on the problem! The Tories to be honest are far to Conservative when it comes to inovating and improving how things are done.

I looked at PPERA legislation earlier but did not put it in my reply and i cannot see why a Paypal could not be used - link here (Donations under £200):


Besides an electronic transfer is traceable and if you were a political party you would ask for address details etc so you could tap them for more!

I don't see traceability being a problem if the LD's can take £2.6M from a conman who is currently on the run. They will not pay it back - I hate LD hypocracy on this and many other areas! Grinding into the dust is all they are fit for!

strapworld said...

In the USA they have a democracy that recognises the individual. Local politics allow the people to directly elect Police Chiefs/Fire Chiefs/ Mayors etc. They can call binding referendums on all manner of subjects.

Politicians are in the main respected and supported.

Sadly here it is the reverse. Local politics is dominated by National Control. Local Politicians (I was one!) are ignored and cannot make a difference. The people's wishes on planning and all manner of subjects are ignored.

So Politicians locally and Nationally do not get the support they should. Just look at the turnouts. For a country that allegedly is democratic they are disgraceful.

So funding, as we saw in the USA, will not take on here unless and until a party stands on a National Programme of re-creating the local politics along the lines of the USA, including binding referendums etc. Elected Mayors/Police Chiefs/ Education and Hospital Management boards directly elected by the local people.

BUT they must also propose a massive change in National Politics and a move away from the appointed Lords and come up with the American System of a Senate and a House of Representatives, plus a Supreme Court (High Court?)

They should also look at a directly elected Prime Minister.

Then, Iain, I do believe that a party promising a root and branch change of bringing democracy back to the people, would get a massive financial support from the people.

BUT, sadly, that can only be a pipe dream whilst every Party is wedded to the undemocratic quango called the European Union!

Raedwald said...

As Simon Jenkins has just taken up the chairmanship of a voluntary organisation with 3,560k paying members - The National Trust - it is apposite indeed to ask where the Conservatives (perhaps 240k paid up members) and Labour (perhaps 150k paid up members) are going wrong.

It wasn't always like this, of course; back in the '50s and '60s their memberships stood at over 2m and around 1m respectively.

The country is firmly opposed to State funding, so the poll is also absolutely correct in reflecting that the parties must generate a myriad of small donations to survive.

The answer, I believe, is local. Why would people donate to a remote, elitist, Westminster based party? What will they get in return? Nothing is the honest answer. The NT, the Women's Institute and the Royal Horticultural Society, all with more members than Labour, actually give something tangible in return for the public's money.

Party memberships, and donations, plummeted when parties ceased to be local associations. What members got in return before that was access to MPs and councillors and more importantly a real stake in the way in which both local and national party policy was developed. The local Conservative associations also functioned both as marriage markets and employment agencies.

Return real power to local associations, loosen the dead hand of CCHQ and a thousand flowers will bloom, millions of Sterling will ker-chunk in the (local) tills, and our sick democracy will be healed.

Andrew Allison said...

US politics is completely different to UK politics. You are right when you say it is less centralised and more personality based.

If a candidate here can latch onto one or two issues of local interest and use their media connections to get publicity, then they may also find small donations coming into their campaign. DD's campaign was different, but it does show the way forward. We were surprised at H&H just how many small donations we received. Get the issues right, and the money will follow.

Theo Spark said...

Because the UK political parties are a bunch of idiots. The population in general are fed up with their stupidity and total lack of intelligence and integrity.

Unknown said...

As Strapworld says...BUT, sadly, that can only be a pipe dream whilst every Party is wedded to the undemocratic quango called the European Union!

Most people I know will never vote again now that we know that our votes don't count whether in local or national elections. All our so called Parliament is, is a regional rubber stamping council for the EUSSR. (just take a look at their map of Europe)

With 80% of legislation decided in Brussels what is there to vote for? Both parties are hamstrung and it doesn't matter what they say, without EU approval they aren't going to go anywhere. Even those that talk about the UK leaving the EU are missing the point. We can't without the agreement of the other 26 countries. As we are one of the biggest (if not the biggest) net contributor, you think they would agree to losing our much needed Euros? And don't forget our membership of the EU is now considerably more expensive with Sterling at almost parity with the Euro.

I'm one of those that think that one of the good things about this recession is that more people are waking up to the cost of all this "hot air" (could that become the latest greenhouse gas?) and whether or not we get anything for our taxes. And that includes some of the barmy so called environmental measures....who exactly is going to pay for it?

You and me?

Mostly Ordinary said...

I give money to causes happily and often. That's the point I donate to causes not organisations. Maybe other people do as well?

I don't see any political party as a cause, they just don't excite me with an agenda I would choose to support.

Being generic has bitten them on the arse.

I agree with others that say that building up local politics again would attract people. I have given money to three local political organisations campaigning for causes I believed in; road safety, local environment and schools. I was taking part in a cause. When political parties ask me for cash I have no say in where the cash is spent.

Maybe if I could donate to ring fenced campaign funds I'd give them money too?

Anoneumouse said...

Internet Donations

"promise to pay the bearer"

Subj: RE: I will withdraw the Conservative Party from the EPP by Christmas. (Frimley 23/11/05)
Date: 06/01/06 13:35:26 GMT Standard Time
From: CAMEROND@parliament.uk
To: Anoneumouse@aol.com
Thank you for writing to David Cameron - he's asked me to thank you and to say that he appreciated what you had to say.

David Cameron has made clear that it is his firm policy that the Conservative Party under his leadership will not remain a member of the European Peoples Party-European Democrats Group (EPP-ED) in the European Parliament, and will aim to form a new grouping which reflects more closely our views on the way forward for Europe.

The Conservative Party has a fundamentally different approach on the key institutional and constitutional questions relating to the future direction of the European Union, and it is natural that we should wish to ally ourselves with parties which share that view. But we intend to maintain close relations with other centre-right parties with which we agree on much, but not on these issues.

David Cameron has asked the new Shadow Foreign Secretary to take forward this process, with appropriate consultation of all involved. In seeking a new alignment within the European Parliament, the Conservative Party
will aim to continue to work closely with fellow centre-right parties in the European Parliament on the many issues on which we agree.

Many thanks again for writing.

Yours sincerely,

David Beal
Correspondence Secretary
David Cameron's Office
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Anonymous said...


"But we intend to maintain close relations with other centre-right parties with which we agree on much, but not on these issues."

That's fair enough for the Tories -I notice you have not posted Anoneumouse for nearly two years! Surely you will vote Tory against the Pro-EU Labour and & LD's????

Anoneumouse said...

martin day said... 8:09 PM

"Surely you will vote Tory against the Pro-EU Labour and & LD's????"

No, it will be UKIP or a party aligned to the partial dream of Declan Ganley.

'Call me Dave' has not delivered and there is no evidence that he will ever deliver.

Even at my most desperate, I am sure I am able to take actions to evacuate my bowels

Shaun said...

Its the 'micropayment' problem. People would gladl give you 10p or 50p now and again, but psychologically balk at the £5 to £6 minimum required for a viable online transaction. This flaw stymies a large number of online commercial areas.

I mean, think about the revenue you could generate from watching a pie being flung into Dave's face! Or faeces into the mush of our Glorious Leader! People can and would pay if there was a low cost system through which to do it.

You should note, incidentally (especially you authoritarians out there!), that I am expressly NOT calling for the state to mandate, invent or involve itself in this. Its one for the commerce lads to thrash out as its them, above all, wot has to live with it and, trust me, they can see the advantages in it1

4x4 the people said...

Rather than an occasional PayPal donation to a single party I would prefer a system of regular donations to a fund who would then allocate the money to several political parties. I would express my intentions as to which party I wished my donation be made via a website to which I was registered or an API on my iPhone. I could donate all to one party or amongst several. This way when the Tory Party made a statement on, for example, Europe that was not precisely to my liking I could express my opprobrium by shifting all or some of the donation to UKIP or the LibDems and then back again when CPHQ issued a statement to the effect that their, now sacked, spokesman really meant to say something quite the opposite to what was reported.

What fun. I would easily pay a fiver a month for this pleasure. Far more flexible and easier than writing in to to cancel my membership every few months or so and then later having to rejoin.

Unknown said...

The time I would donate would be at the start, or during, a general election campaign.

It would seem to me to be rather obvious that this would be the only time that any party will raise significant sums of money.

Obama did rather well in this regard but he used his personal appeal.

Maybe Boris or some celebrity supporters could help to raise a few pounds?

Richard Holloway said...

What's never been done effectively is the grassroots mobilisation of CFers on networkig websites like Faceboo and Bebo. Even during the Boris campaign it wasn't fully realised what the new online tools mean for campaigning.
Why not set each young conservative member the target of 5 of their friends becoming friends of the party? The grassroots has never been asked to push it properly, and these things have to be done from the grassroots.

4x4 the people said...

We could set a target of 500k which if reached Boris would run naked across the Millenium Bridge.

Anonymous said...

If people care enough, they'll donate. paypal is best as the parties know where the money is coming from. Davis got lots of small donations as people cared about what he had to say and saw his party was against him. All 3 main parties are seen as spokesmen for big business and the EUSSR, so no one would donate their hard-earned cash.

Bill said...

I have alway pretty much been a supporter of the conservative party. I did join the party a couple of years ago, and paid the subscription fee (£10 I think it was. Then, I had a letter from them saying that if I wanted to stay a member, then I must pay a higher fee. To be honest, membership wasn't that important, so it was a case of "sod you then" - if you'll excuse the language. If they were to say you can be a member, and pay what you want - I probably would, and more than my initial subscription - I just resented the expectation that membership of the party was valuable to me.

Andrew Scadding said...

First of all, stating the bleedin' obvious, if you don't ask, you don't get, so ask. Makes sense.

Second, people give to charities for emotional as well as rational reasons. Maybe political parties need to engage the heart as well as the head.

But the real vitiating factor, I fear, is that party stalwarts prefer state funding because it leaves them without the need to respond to public concerns. They will not make the effort to attract public support because they don't want the baggage that goes with it. Hence focus groups and talk of 'selling' policies. Hence also the constant squirming and wriggling to avoid a proper discussion of issues which truly matter to the public. EU membership is a case in point. It has become a running sore precisely because the public won't let it go, and the political classes won't allow it to be discussed.

A foundation of mutual dislike and distrust is not the best for a fundraising relationship.