Archive for February, 2010

Golwg COLUMN: The price of politics

The cost of maintaining a political party is expensive. History shows that the price has often got parties into difficulties.

The only Welsh speaking Prime Minister from Wales, David Lloyd George had some notoriety in this context. He had a fresh plan to raise money for his political fund. His cunning plan? Selling honours.

Selling honours to raise money for a party was not a new scheme. But Lloyd George changed the practice into an industry. He used a dubious ex-actor by the name of Maundy Gregory to set up an office near Parliament to drum up customers. There was a price list. A knighthood was available for £10000 a baronetcy at £30000, elevation to the House of Lords £50000.

Inevitably, the scandal became public knowledge and there was then a parliamentary debate. In his contribution to that debate in the House of Commons, Lloyd George said that ‘that the practice was despicable,’. But privately he was of the opinion that selling honours was one of the cleanest ways of raising money for a political party.

As a response to the crisis a Royal Commission was established and as a consequence a law was passed to make the practice illegal.

But as one avenue of fund raising closes another becomes the vogue. Now its ‘the gift’ that is important. Currently, the Conservatives are under scrutiny because of the money that Michael Ashcroft, Lord Ashcroft, has given to the party.

The Election Commission are looking into one of Lord Ashcroft’s companies who have given £3 million to the Conservative Party. To be within the law a company needs to be trading mostly in the United Kingdom to give to a British political party. The allegation is that most of the income of the company in question comes from the Belize. There is a ban on overseas donations and you can’t use a British company as a front. We must await the verdict of the inquiry to see whether the donation is allowable.

Meanwhile, the Wales Labour Party are in the spotlight for their fund raising activities. David Pickering, the Chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, issued an invitation to a private fund raising dinner for the Labour Party with the First Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales present. Nothing wrong with that you say. But he got into difficulty because he used WRU resources to organize the event. He has subsequently apologized for this gaff.

But is that the end of the story? No, not at all.

It’s not Pickering’s mistake that’s the issue but the price of the dinner – £1000. I guess that not many ordinary Labour Party members would be prepared to pay £1000 for the dubious honour of sitting down to dinner with Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones. No, the only people prepared to fork out such a large sum are representatives of the business world. Why? Influence.

Is a £1000 the price for our Ministers’ ears?

No, we need to completely change the way we fund political parties. Unfortunately, the only way forward is to use public money to underwrite them. Of course, this will be expensive. But who ever said democracy was cheap.

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Pay back time for MPs

Sir Thomas Clegg presented his final account to MPs today with 364 of them having to pay back more than a million pounds.

This report further undermines the reputation of MPs and parliament itself with Sir Thomas accusing MPs of influencing the Fees office and creating a ‘culture of deference.’

Welsh MPs were amongst those that have had to pay back money. Over half of them had put in wrong expense claims to the Fees office.

Of the 40 MPs representing Welsh seats 27 had to pay money back. The total paid back was £62530.81p with nearly £5100 still outstanding.

Although there are now new rules in place to prevent abuses in the future, they fall far short of the rules that the Welsh Assembly members operate under.

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Golwg COLUMN: Closing their ears

‘He doesn’t listen.’ How many times have these words been said about a pupil in a school annual report. Despite it being a few years ago now, I’m sure it was an apt summary of my school career in Friars school, Bangor.

If this is true about some individuals, it’s certainly true at times about the electorate. A time comes, and it comes to all parties at various times, when the electorate just switch off and refuse to listen.

Despite the best endeavors of the party concerned, the reasoning, the propaganda, the oratory are to no avail, they have little or no effect.

Why? A group ‘psyche’ takes over. The mind decides and the ears close. In such circumstances there is not a great deal a political party can do to change things. They simply have to accept their fate and wait patiently for the passage of time and the public memory to fade and then things might change.

Gordon Brown’s government, I suspect, has arrived at this uncomfortable impasse. There is not a great deal that he, or his ministers, can say or do that will have an influence on the voters.

The opinion polls have been consistent for months and they show a large gap between Labour and the Conservatives. Despite Brown being a workaholic, his efforts are of little consequence.

How did the government reach such a state? When Brown got the keys to number ten, he had a honeymoon period. He wasted his opportunity. His spin doctors were told up the ante on an early general election, but like the old Duke of York, he went into retreat. He refused to leap and thus created the impression of weakness. He lost his opportunity.

Then things went from bad to worse. The economic bubble burst. The banks got into difficulty and some faced bankruptcy. Ordinary people worried about losing their savings. In the situation the government had to throw public money to bail out the banks. So as night follows day, as banks falter, the real economy moves into recession.

In order to stop the economy from turning recession into depression more public money was used to solve the problem.

And the effect of it all? The country in massive debt and on the horizon major cuts. The future looks bleak.

And in these most difficult of economic times what do we discover? That our MPs have been fiddling their expense claims. Its little wonder that the public are turning their backs and scorning politics. And who gets the blame? The government , of course.

I will prophesy. That not only will the electorate shut their ears at the time of the election but a large proportion of them will refuse to turn out to vote, for any party.

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