Buying your Lords Seat
The appointment of new Lords today has provoked significant criticism (see for instance, Electoral Reform Society, BBC Have Your Say). Much of the criticism has focused on the appointment of superannuated party hacks and party donors.
Whilst totally agreeing that we should not see party hacks (as in failed or frustrated politicians or party apparatchiks) being appointed to the House of Lords, I think we need to be a bit more nuanced about donors.
One of the many problems facing political parties is disengagement. This means that parties are becoming more reliant on big donors. We should be seeking to encourage normal donors and therefore we should be careful before condemning all party donors who get appointed to the House of Lords.
The question is what sort of level of donation is (or should be) normal, and what sort of multiple of a normal donation is acceptable before it looks like undue influence?
|Name||Donated personally||Donated through proxies||Total||Party||Previous political position|
|Rabinder Singh Suri||129,380||183,055||312,435||Con||N|
Source: Electoral Commission adapted from as posted on Electoral Reform Society Blog
I guess “normal” boils down to two main factors:
- The donation as a percentage of the median income (some sort of reasonableness test)
- The donation as a percentage of the receiving party’s income (some sort of dependency test).
In addition there is one other factor
- The donation as a percentage of the donor’s income (how much it hurts the donor)
- A big donation as a low percentage indicates almost casual buying of influence – most distasteful.
- A large donation as a large percentage indicates a desire to be influential (or possibly rabid support) – also rather distasteful.
We need to ensure that making normal donations is socially acceptable – parties mass funded by normal donations has to be a better solution that taxpayer funding.
Parties need to cut their spending, cut unnecessary advertising, and cut swish election budgets. They should go back to the style of campaigning in the 1960s when candidates campaigned face to face with public debate of issues instead of “projecting their prospective presidents” with expensive leaders tours and “photo-opportunities”. New (low) donation and spending limits should be strictly applied with criminal sanctions against donors, party officials, candidates and agents who breach them.
But we need to be careful not to stigmatise all political donating.