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Monday, March 26, 2007

The power of incumbency

An interesting post from Greg Hands MP over at Conservative Home on the proposed additional £10,000 per annum communications allowance for MPs and on party funding in particular. This communications allowance is one item of expenditure that will not feature in the Assembly. We also have stricter rules on postage.

In general I agree with him on the extra allowance. It has the potential to bring politics into disrepute by using public money to reinforce incumbency. What is worse is that on the basis of the House of Commons' present track record there will be no transparency on how that money is being spent.

Greg Hands points out the extortionate amount of money already being spent by some MPs on postage - £25,146 last year in Andrew Dismore's case, equal to sending 83,000 letters, or 612 for every day Parliament sat last year. And yet if one were to ask the authorities for a breakdown of that expenditure under the Freedom of Information Act, as I have done with my local MPs, they will refuse the request. How will we be able to hold our MPs to account for how they spend this additional allowance if they manage it behind a veil of secrecy?

Greg Hands goes on to discuss the levy that many local parties, including the Conservatives, operate on very generous Councillors' allowances so as to fund political activity. In many ways this is not as bad, as at least the money is paid directly to the Councillor concerned who then makes a choice as to whether to donate it or not, however it must be acknowledged that it is another form of state funding.

I have never been opposed to the state funding of political parties. It strikes me that it is preferable to wealthy individuals being able to buy influence or position. However, what is needed is transparency. There is too much back-door funding going on through allowances, short money, money for policy development etc and no up-front arrangements where we can be clear as to the criteria that is being applied and how the money is being spent. If we can introduce that reform then we will be on the right path.
If you're still looking for Peter Hain's blog it's here: http://www.hain4labour.org/?q=node/34&pageId=news&ln=1
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