The latest cash-for-access scandal has attracted renewed interest to the report on party-political finance published in November by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, subtitled "ending the big donor culture". The report makes 24 recommendations, the most important being to ban donations to a party from any one source of more than £10,000 a year, and to replace at least part of the lost income with a subsidy from the public purse proportional to votes received in the last general election, to be awarded to any party qualifying for Policy Development Grants: currently this means with at least two sitting MPs, but the report recommends extending to grants to parties with significant representation in the devolved legislatures. The report recommends that parties not qualifying for state subsidy should be exempt from the cap on donations.
I think the case for public funding is overwhelming. The estimated cost would be £23m per year. UK government spending is expected to be about £683bn. I think it would be extraordinary if the need to encourage donations didn't induce a government to make inefficient spending decisions amounting to much more than 0.0034% of its budget.
Opponents are concerned that restrictions on donations would inhibit the emergence of new parties. They may have overlooked that recommendation 23 in the report is that "The donation cap should not apply to political parties without enough representation to qualify for Policy Development Grants, or the equivalent we have proposed in the devolved legislatures." I would extend that to allow any party to opt out of the cap, in return for renouncing state funding and renouncing the possibility of any of its MPs holding ministerial office until after the next general election but one.
The other objection is that politicians don't deserve the money. But this is not a question of what the politicians deserve; it's a question of what sort of government we all want. I want one that can make decisions without consulting the party treasurer first.