How and when will the buck stop?

battlebusIts perhaps a relief in the very short term that the CPS has decided to take no action against most of the small number of MPs whose campaigns were rigged by the application of large sums of funds from the central campaign pot at the last General Election. A final decision to be taken in the case of Craig Mackinlay will almost certainly follow the rest. A prosecution at this stage would potentially have thrown the whole General Election into turmoil and risks lancing a much bigger boil in an ineffective manner. For a CPS prosecution to take place the law demands a very specific test to be passed. As the CPS Head of Special Crime Nick Vamos said yesterday “Under the Representation of the People Act, every candidate and agent must sign a declaration on the expenses return that to the best of their knowledge and belief it is a complete and correct return as required by law. It is an offence to knowingly make a false declaration. In order to bring a charge, it must be proved that a suspect knew the return was inaccurate and acted dishonestly in signing the declaration. Although there is evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate, there is insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest.”

It is far better in the long run that the issue of political campaigning costs are left to be addressed in a strategic manner, rather than through the Courts on a constituency by constituency basis. The ultimate issue is not that the 2015 General Election was won due to the electoral law being broken, even though it clearly was. The real issue is that like every General Election and indeed every election for the European Parliament and Police and Crime Commissioner, our elections are heavily rigged in favour of people and parties who can raise enormous sums of money to ensure they have the ability to achieve an outcome that other candidates cannot manage. In this General Election all national parties are entitled to spend up to nearly £20M in the election at a national level on top of the sum of around £20,000 per constituency which all candidates can spend. However this spending is only measured during a specific period and any money spent outside of this period does not fall within this restriction. These sums are obscene if one compares them to some of the real issues impacting our society, and they severely disadvantage any candidates fighting individual campaigns such as the NHA party and Independent candidates who are denied any form of national campaigning resource. The levels of spend also disadvantage candidates who do not have well organised and well resourced political parties to back them up at a local level.

We need a political system that gives a level playing field to credible and meaningful candidates, it must be one that ensures that people who perhaps add colour but not much substance to campaigns are still able to show up, but are not able to block out the opportunity for candidates to be heard. However we must take the big money out of politics. Instead of just money our politics should be a focus of true grass roots support. Candidates in a General Election need a mere 10 names on a piece of paper to stand, along with the ability to pay a £500 deposit and then the capacity to compete with one of two or three huge financial political machines. What if each candidate had to gain 100 or even 1000 names on their paper. Why then would a deposit be needed? What if the spending limit was 10p for each elector so around £7,000 per constituency and the national spending allowance for parties was and additional £1,000 per constituency . This would force the media to focus on local candidates and local issues and the parties would be obliged to work in a much more local way. Perhaps my ideas are unrealistic. However we need a new way of doing politics. This is as important for the well being of society as it is for the elections themselves.

If Labour, Tories and Lib Dems were all able to raise £33M which is how much they are each entitled to spend plus 325,000 which is the sum needed to pay for the deposits, that would provide exactly 0.1Bn towards the needs of our nation. The impact on society of such funding could be very beneficial. Instead it is currently spent paying for people like Patrick McLoughlin, Conservative Party Chairman to be able to say that the spending debacle had been exacerbated by “false and malicious claims” about Tory candidates on the internet. He said: “After a very thorough investigation, we are pleased that the legal authorities have confirmed what we believed was the case all along, that these Conservative candidates did nothing wrong. “These were politically motivated and unfounded complaints that have wasted police time. We are glad that this matter is finally resolved.” Other voices funded by this 0.1Bn war chest include Karl McCartney, Conservative candidate standing in Lincoln, said:  “This whole saga amounts to no more than a politically-motivated witch-hunt.” This from a party once described as the party of law and order!


About ianchisnall

I have a passion to see public policy made accessible everyone who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as in policies on health services and strategic planning.
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