'Cash for access' shows why our politics is a closed shop

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 27 March 2012 in Diary
To avoid funding them through the state, we need more people to join our political parties. But this scandal demonstrates precisely why people are turned off by them, says Charlotte Henry

It's been one of the worst kept secrets around Wesmintster that the murky world of lobbying, and the issues of party funding that surround it, were going to be the next great political scandal. The recent busting of Bell Pottinger may prove to be a mere starter, if the boasts of former Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas are found to have any foundation. 

Do I think David Cameron is corrupt? Well no, not in any conventional sense. I think he showed a huge error of judgement and a lack of political nouse in appointing Andy Coulson, and needs to take a long look at his party appointments to treasurer, but calculated corruption - not a bit of it.

That is the problem.

The whole issue of funding, access and lobbying has become such a mess, so interlinked, so shrouded in nudges and innuendo, that it is no wonder that the ethical boundaries have been pushed right to the limits. Furthermore, it isn't really in the interests of anybody involved in either politics or lobbying for light to be shone on the system. That is why it took a Sunday Times investigation to bring it out into the open. (Although have no doubt that it suits the press, particularly the part of it owned by Rupert Murdoch, to be the 'good guys' once again.) Various interests have lots of money, politicians need money. It's a toxic combination.

As we heard in the shameful attempt at a debate in Parliament yesterday, none of the parties are really in the clear, although I would suggest that for a variety of reasons the Liberal Democrats are probably the least-worse offenders.However, this is no time for moral grandstanding, and yes, that means you, Mr Miliband. While it was funding of the Conservatives that made the headlines this weekend, Labour have been at the beck and call of the trade unions since their inception, and are obstinately against any changes to funding rules that might limit the money they can receive from them. It's worth pointing out that the Liberal Democrats are tied neither to big business or trade unions.

It  is broadly accepted that the only way to counter this problem in the future is to cap the amount that can be donated to political parties. The issue then arises of increased or even total state funding of parties, which I am opposed to. The real way to fill the funding gap is for political parties to encourage more people to join them, but after yesterday'ss disgraceful showing in the Commons, that doesn't seem very likely. Ultimately our politics remains a closed shop, to the benefit of those already inside it, and those with the means to buy their way in.

This government has genuinely embraced transparency in a whole range of issues. They now need to take on party funding.

Tags: Bell Pottinger, Cash for access, Conservative Party, Ed Miliband, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Party funding, Peter cruddas, Rupert Murdoch, Sunday Times

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