In the past few weeks the discussion around money and power have dominated the mainstream media. If it’s not Russian diplomats paying £40k to play tennis with Boris Johnson, it’s allegations of Vote Leave moving money around between BeLeave, AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica. The incidents of not so long ago scandals of the Panama and Paradise papers which documented the wealthiest in our society hiding assets away in tax havens have long been forgotten in political discourse. Oh, and remember the Conservatives and Lib Dem’s being investigated for election fraud at General Elections; that investigation didn’t provide any solutions to the problem or prosecutions just fines and no by-election. The problem is this kind of blatant opportunism is an attack on democracy and shows how money buys power, to get power you need money – so the rest of us are stuffed!
We can see huge variations in the value of donations each political party receives on the run up to elections. Prior to the snap General Election last year the Conservatives managed to raise around £25 million and Labour raised around £9.5 million. Amongst the other UK parties the Liberal Democrats raised nearly £4.5 million and the SNP raised around £600 thousand; most of which came from a single lottery winning donor. Other parties such as UKIP, Greens and Plaid Cymru raised less than £330 thousand between them. However, on the run up to the General Election in 2015 UKIP had a single donation of a million pounds from Arron Banks, an entrepreneur, who has broken ties with the depleting party.
The difference in financial donations is startling. The Conservative Party received donations of nearly £10 million pounds more than all the other political parties put together. It is important to point out that the snap election caught political parties by surprise as it was called with no warning. The UK parties had less time to collect money from coffers.
Instant access to cash, in the instance of the snap election, was crucial for a successful campaign.
Even with an absolutely terrible campaign, useless leader and growing grass roots support for Corbyn money still won the election. Even though the Conservatives lost their majority the winners were the Conservatives which have paid around £1 billion, in tax payers money, to the DUP in a ‘supply and demand’ deal to remain in power.
This is clearly unfair, but there is nothing in place to regulate a level playing field when it comes to total donations to parties only how they are spent. This has however not resulted in any action taken to parties apart from fines; which they can afford to pay. It’s like having a race with varying types of cars and engine sizes; it wouldn’t happen in any other context. Moreover, when the allegations were made about Cambridge Analytica, about the recent fraudulent or ‘dodgy’ events surrounding Vote Leave, the Electoral Commission had to give seven days notice to gain access to offices and IT systems. I’m no tech expert but I am pretty sure a few delete buttons were pressed and data destroyed in seven days before the access was granted. The powers must be given to these autonomous bodies to make sure that fair and transparent campaigns are taking place and democracy is protected.
We hear of Russian interference in elections but I am more concerned about the interference of the wealthy few in our own country supporting ideological shifts in UK politics drastically to the right.
Questions must be answered about these allegations about money being pumped through different organisations about Vote Leave. As Caroline Lucas suggested on Andrew Marr over the weekend (25/03/18) “This puts weight behind having a people’s vote on the deal secured by Theresa May from the European Union”. If the £350 million pounds for the NHS and Turkey joining the EU tomorrow narrative was not grounds for ratification of the result these revelations pile holes in the legitimacy of the EU Referendum result. If The result was swung to the 1.9% majority on breaches to spending allowances on the Vote Leave a referendum on the deal must be offered to the UK.
Money and power will always be linked whilst we exist with a neo-liberal unregulated economic paradigm. Success will always be easier for those with money and it will remain that way as long as power can be bought without real consequences. It is up to us to vote for change and engage with peers and neighbours as that is the only election method that has more success rate than money fuelled electioneering and marketing.
MSc HRM student