"Until we reform political party funding and address corporate power, politics is a waste of time." George Monbiot
The case for Democracy Vouchers
How to ensure political equality by putting the funding
of political parties into the hands of the people.
90% of voters think democracy is a good thing. Less than 20% think it works in practice.
As Robert Reich* observed, democracy needs to be updated every generation. Its institutions and practices need to be reformed to keep up with the times. The distortions and quaint practices that have built up over time need to be exorcised.
For nearly a century our democracy has gone largely unreformed. Lack of reform is the reason it has become unrepresentative and dysfunctional.
Our 'first past the post' voting system has led to two-party domination. In a modern society, two parties cannot possibly hope to represent the diversity of political views that exist today, and ours don't try.
Our two main parties effectively inhabit the same skin. They operate in their own self-interest, concocting a political narrative that supports the aims and agendas of their party. The needs and aspirations of the electorate are largely ignored.
It's 'party before people', and this has left the electorate ignored, marginalised and feeling politically homeless. But what's really polluted our democracy and contributed more than anything else to its dysfunction, is money, and specifically, the way our political parties are funded.
A polluted democracy
In the 2019 general election, 100 'super donors' were responsible for over half of all donations to political parties. The average donation was close to half a million pounds.
Both our two main political parties have a very small membership base, and derive almost all of their funding from corporate donations and a 'donor class'. As a consequence, the interests and preferences of this unrepresentative donor class take precedence over the interests of the electorate.
If the basic principle of democracy is political equality, this is a blatant violation of this principle. It gives the rich and powerful a very direct influence over our politics at the expense of the majority. If we are to have a true democracy, this needs to change.
Putting power into the hands of the people
There is a better way, a way which guarantees politicians pay attention to the interests and preferences of the people, and eliminates the malign and corrupting influence of the donor class. A way that delivers political equality and puts the question of party funding into the hands of the electorate. A way that ensures politicians' focus is concentrated on what is in the best interests of the people, and makes politics inclusive as opposed to exclusive. This can be achieved through the use of 'Democracy Vouchers'. Democracy Vouchers put the power of funding political parties into the hands of the electorate.
Democracy vouchers - how they work
Every year, everybody on the electoral roll would be given a voucher to give to the political party of their choice. The voucher will only be valid for one year and can be donated at any time during that year.
The value of the voucher would be based on the average annual amount raised by all political parties over the previous two years divided by the number on the electoral roll. The total cost of this per elector, per year, would be the equivalent of 2 first-class stamps.
Parties would be allowed to receive one donation of £50 per year, per elector. No other donations would be permitted. Membership subscriptions would be the only other source of revenue. (**See example below) Vouchers would be collected centrally and funds received distributed to parties quarterly.
MPs would be prohibited from receiving donations or any benefits in kind.
This system has huge benefits. It would focus politicians' attention on the needs and priorities of the electorate and eliminate the malign and corrupting influence of the donor class.
By putting the funding of political parties in the hands of the electorate, it ensures political equality.
Democracy Vouchers would concentrate the minds of politicians to pursue and deliver policies that are in the electorate's best interests, not their party's best interests.
Importantly, they would put real power into the hands of the electorate who will have the ability to influence the choice of policies, and the power to indicate their disapproval if policies are not delivered.
Democracy Vouchers put the electorate back at the heart of the political process. They deliver the participatory democracy that we so desperately need. They allow the electorate to have a direct input in how the country is governed and a direct say in what sort of country they want. They eliminate the disconnect between the political class and the electorate and ensure the electorate has the full and undivided attention of their elected representatives.
Our current political system has become so dysfunctional that currently we are governed by an elective dictatorship. Unless there is fundamental political reform in this country, our spiral of decline will not only continue, it will accelerate. We can't allow this to happen.
We are a divided nation. The fact that we are, is a political choice. Appalling levels of poverty and deprivation, inequality, lack of social housing, an inadequate welfare system, an underfunded NHS, a lack of social mobility, these too are political choices. These are choices that have been made by our representatives. They're choices that have been made against our best interests and against the best interests of the country. Having a political system that allows this is as stupid as it is wrong. There has to be change. Democracy vouchers, along with the much needed introduction of Proportional Representation, would bring about the change we so desperately need.
We are effectively spectators at our own funeral. We can march, shout and protest as much as we like, but there's nothing we can do to stop it or to change anything. This is nonsense. We have to be part of the political process, and the introduction of Democracy Vouchers would allow us to be part of the process and prevent what is happening to us now from ever happening again.
A comment on cost
Nearly fourteen million people are in work poverty; four million are in deep poverty; 17.4 million are living in substandard accommodation; 1.4 million are on housing waiting lists; the NHS is underfunded and struggling to cope; the country is reeling from the consequences of Brexit; millions are finding it hard to put food on the table; our welfare system is broken our prisons are full - and nothing works. This is broken Britain, and broken Britain is costing the the nation tens of billions. We are in desperate need of better politics. The way to achieve that and to reduce the terrible cost of broken Britain is to put power into the hands of the people. That's what Democracy Vouchers would do. In the context of what broken Britain costs us today, the funding required is a very small price to pay.
(This example is based on a party the size of the Labour or Conservative Party)
Average amount raised by political parties over the past two years (estimate) £110,000,000
Total number on the electoral roll: 47,000,000
110,000,000 ÷ 47,000,000 = 2.34. Value of each Democracy voucher = £2.34
Total number of Democracy Vouchers received: 10,000,000. Total funding supplied £23,400,000
170,000 party membership subscriptions @ £50 each = £8,500,000
120,000 donations of £50 = £6,000,000
Total income = £37,900,000
• Democracy Vouchers have been used successfully in Seattle, Washington, USA as a method of public financing of political campaigns used in municipal elections.
• The idea for Democracy Vouchers to be used in the way described above has been put forward by Daniel Chandler, an economist and philosopher based at the LSE.
• State funding of political parties already happens. Opposition parties have access to funds for administrative expenses.
• In 2010, the Kelly Report on political party funding recommended state funding of political parties with a cap on donations. At that time he cost amounted to the price of a first class stamp per year, per elector. Nick Clegg, on behalf of the coalition government, rejected the Kelly recommendations because he said they were too expensive.
* Robert Reich is an American professor, lawyer, political commentator and a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.