This week it was announced that a major Tory donor, Sir Andrew Cook, was threatening to cut his funding of the party if they pursued a ‘Hard Brexit’ in their upcoming negotiations with the EU*. Now many people may agree with his view as to what sort of deal we should aim for as our membership of the EU comes to an end – however that is not the real issue here. What his announcement demonstrates is the extent to which the very wealthy can use their money to influence democracy, in a way which completely undermines the democratic process.
Sir Andrew Cook has donated well over £1 million to the Tories, a significant sum of money which means his threat to withdraw any future funding will not be ignored. However, wherever you stand on the Brexit debate, it cannot be right that one person has so much influence over government policy, when we’re supposed to live in a one-person one-vote state. The private funding of political parties completely undermines this democratic principle, and this isn’t the first time wealthy people have influenced government policy in this way. Click here for other examples.
Some people argue that allowing private individuals to fund political parties saves the taxpayer money, but the reality is that the taxpayer loses far more money through corrupted policies than it would cost to provide such funding. For example it only costs about £10m or so to fund a major party for a year, and it is estimated the total bill to the taxpayer of funding all such parties would be in the region of £100m/year. Compare that to the £billions the taxpayer loses every year through tax avoidance, via loopholes which successive governments have failed to close because their wealthy donors don’t want them to.
Many other countries have recognised this problem, and have in place legislation to limit the extent to which the wealthy can influence government policy via their political donations. In France for example it is actually illegal for companies to fund political parties, while no individual can donate more than €7,500 in a given year. In Iceland no-one can donate more than 400,000 ISK (about £3000) a year; and many other countries have similar strong limits and controls on such funding.
In this country there are no such rules, and until there are we will continue to live in a society where ordinary people may vote for political parties, but it is a small handful of wealthy donors who control the legislation they actually enact.