There is a heated discussion going on about the Telegraph’s discovery of a £21,000 donation to the office of Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Minister for Health. It has been made by a well wisher who happens to be involved in the private health industry, and it raises understandable concerns
There is nothing new of course about people who believe that they may have something to gain, or perhaps simply want to see their friends in power, dipping in to their pockets to help a party that they think has a good chance of success.
It is nothing new, but it is something that makes many people feel queasy. Most of us just really do not like the idea that decisions about policy might be influenced, even subliminally, by a minister knowing he can do something to benefit his friends.
But beyond that it is the sheer amount that confuses me.
Ok £21,000 isn’t such a large amount, but presumably it is not the only income that Andrew Lansley’s office has received, and I am frankly puzzled. What do they need that amount of money for? What is it meant to buy?
It is perfectly reasonable for a local party to want to print and distribute a number of leaflets a year – They might want to hire some rooms for some meetings, they might want some posters for the lamp posts, balloons perhaps, possibly even a hoarding or two, but what is the rest of it supposed to do?
I wonder if constituents would want to know how their local parties are spending money and where it is coming from. They might find it interesting if for instance money from the fabled Ashcroft millions is being used to buy glossy leaflets in the hope of impressing them. They might want to know who has expensive websites done by smart professional agencies, and who has something put together by volunteers.
We talk periodically about reforming the funding of politics. I really think we should. With things as they are we have a kind of arms race. The favourites get money that they really don’t need being thrown at them in a way that perhaps quite unjustly raises questions about their integrity. The others have to scratch about to find just about enough money to do the job properly.
For both it is a distraction.
Personally, I have this unfashionable idea that we need politicians, and that it is a hard enough job for them without having to spend massive amounts of time worrying about money. It is best if we remove both the temptation and the anxiety connected with money, and leave politicians focused on the work we need them to do. We might get a cleaner kind of politics if we do this.