Political Party Funding: seeking the level playing field

Having won the last general election with the support of only 24.3% of registered voters, the Tories are looking to cement their hold on power by cutting off off trade unions’ financial support for the Labour Party. Only the unelected and unrepresentative House of Lords now stands in the way of enacting the Trade Union Bill which will achieve this end.

The £30.2m that Labour has received from the unions following the general election is about what the Tories get from a handful of wealthy individuals: £27.9m, or 62 per cent of the party’s total. 61 donors gave more than £50,000 at one go, qualifying them to mingle  socially with Cameron and his chums. A further 141 donors clocked up £50,000 with multiple donations but apparently don’t qualify for an immediate opportunity to rub shoulders at the trough.

The Tory party’s biggest individual donor is Michael Farmer who has made eight donations totalling £2,191,392.42. This explains why he is a Tory Party co-treasurer. He is the founder of the hedge fund RK Capital Management. Hedge funds are financial institutions which speculate on behalf of the super-rich. Collectively, they are major backers of the Tory Party and help to explain why the Tories are so relaxed about the decline in manufacturing and happy to ignore the potential for another financial crash.

Companies make up 25 per cent of Tory donations. The biggest corporate donor is JCB Research which has donated a total £1.4m since the election. Prem Sikka, the principled and celebrated professor of accounting at Essex University, has described JCB Research as a “black box” due to its status as an unlimited company with minimal reporting requirements.

What can be done to reform the financing of political parties when we eventually turf out the Tories? Fairness dictates that corporate donations should only be allowed when the majority of shareholders entitled to vote in UK elections approve them. Furthermore, those who do not vote for the resolution should be excused from contributing. Many donating companies are, however, privately owned by wealthy individuals, not all of whom are located offshore for tax purposes. The proposed reform, although essential, would not necessarily significantly dent the 25% corporate share of Tory funding. What is needed is a cap on all donations of, say, £500 per annum, with union donations treated as donations by individual members unless the individual opts out. This would, of course, bring forth squeals of anguish from all the major political parties who have become dependent on handouts from the rich. There would inevitably follow a demand for public funding to replace the ‘lost’ income. Such demands have to be dismissed. Provided deposits for standing in elections are scrapped, political parties can and should operate, as does the Communist Party, by relying on the modest donations and hard work of their members and supporters. Then we really would have a level playing field.