Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Should the tax payer fund political parties?

Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems must reinvent themselves as mass-membership organisations.

The political party is dying. As older members pass away to join the great returning officer in the sky, they are not being replaced by new, young recruits.

Back in the 1950s, belonging to a political party marked you out as slightly odd. More civically engaged than the average citizen, if you want to be nice about it. If you want to be less kind, an obsessive. But at least then, when the combined memberships of Labour and the Tories could be measured in millions and even the old Liberal party could rustle up 250,000 paying supporters, the minority you belonged to was a substantial one. Even if you didn't carry a card yourself, most people probably knew someone who did.

As parties shrivel to a very small hardcore of the ultra-committed, one consequence is that they become less and less representative of the wider population. That makes them even more cut off and even more difficult for leaders to lead. Consider the convulsions that the Conservative party has been through over same-sex marriage. The polls tell us that the average voter is not all that fussed by the issue. On balance, they are positive and they are more likely to support gay marriage the younger they are. The one exception is elderly people. Most are against and many are passionate in their antagonism. David Cameron's basic problem with gay marriage is the average age of a Tory party member.

We do not like the idea of unions dominating Labour, we do not like a few millionaires controlling the Conservatives and we do not like the idea of tax payer funding of political, however, it is the lesser of three evils...

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