Democracy for sale

In the 2010 election campaign the Tories claimed to have spent £16.6 million and they received around 10 million votes. Labour spent £8m and received 8.6 million votes. That works out at around £1.70 and 90 pence per vote respectively. In reality, their costs per vote were significantly higher, not only because they are neither averse to concealing and artificially deflating recorded election expenditure but because they both benefit, especially the Tories, from extensive media coverage, none of which they have to pay for and much of which is pure propaganda. The Communist Party’s cost per vote is harder to estimate as, due to the cost of lost deposits, £500 per constituency, it cannot afford to stand in many seats. In those seats in which it did stand in 2010 it averages some 0.3% of vote. While this does not seem, at first glance, very impressive, it does correspond to 8,900 votes nationally. The CP raised £28,000 for the 2010 general election for campaigning, i.e. election expenditure other than lost deposits. Thus its cost per vote in 2010 was only 32 pence per vote. Who knows what could have been achieved if we too had resources equal to those of the big parties and a fair hearing in the mass media?

What will election spending be in the forthcoming general election? In the past four years the Tories have raised £78 million.  This is five times their 2010 spend and thought to be about three times what the Labour Party are thought to have – some £26 million. The Communist Party is, on the other hand, planning to raise only £13,000 from its members this time to fight the election. Clearly, we are heading to win the lowest cost per vote again. We can take some comfort from this, but it’s hardly a triumph for democracy.

Almost a third of the Tories huge election war chest has been donated by the owners of hedge funds. In return the Tory Chancellor has granted them huge tax concessions and turned a blind eye to their exploitation of tax havens. This is a gross distortion of our democracy.

How then should our democracy be paid for? Here are my views. For a start, only those who pay tax in the UK should be allowed to vote in UK elections. Then entitlement to donate to a political party should be confined to this electorate. The only exception should be the trade unions as they enable individual workers to act collectively to counter the influence of wealthy individuals. Equating the political donations of trade unions with those of businesses, as do the Tories, is risible. That a significant Blairite rump in the Labour Party appears to agree with the Tories on this tells us more about their politics than they would probably wish us to know.

The final reform of how we pay for our democracy should be an annual cap on donations by individuals equal to, say, 10% of average annual earnings. Not their average earnings, the average earnings. The donations by trade unions could be set at the same level but determined in aggregate using the total membership of the union other than those who have opted out of the political fund or who cannot vote in UK elections. This would still leave wealthy individuals with an advantage as they could most easily afford to pay up to the ceiling, but this advantage would at least be partially offset by the collective nature of donations by trade unions.

The predictable response of the Tories, UKIP, LibDems and Blairite Labourites to these reforms would, of course, be to demand state funding. How else could they continue to dominate and distort the electoral process? This should be resisted. The Communist Party asks for no such state support – at least this side of the revolution! If we can function without state support in a capitalist society, so can they!

After the revolution, the responsibilities of the Communist Party (and trade unions) would change. State funding for both might then well be required in order to reflect their new responsibilities. Roll on the day!

About drmartingraham

Branch Secretary Croydon CP Convenor Communist University in South London

One thought on “Democracy for sale

  1. Apologies for late correction. The CP achieved 0.3%, not 0.03%. This was a typo and doesn’t affect the other figures and calculations quoted.

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