Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Politics Decoded: What to do with: Wendy Alexander, Party Funding & Christmas

Every Tuesday I write a column on The Wardman Wire. Read it there first - it is published between 11am and 12pm. If you missed it this week, here is the article in full:

A quiet week so far…

What? No new scandal that threatens to take down the Brown administration? Sorry ladies and gentlemen, we’ll just have to make do with last week’s one today. That isn’t such a bad thing mind you, it does give us a chance to catch up rather than bury last week’s bad news with this week’s bad news. Besides – it is only Tuesday, there is plenty of time for something disastrous to happen before the end of the week. So, what do to do with party funding?

Irreparable cracks?

Before I attempt to tackle that nigh on impossible question, I may have been a bit rash to suggest that Brown had no bad news to deal with this week. This week actually promises to be a real tough one for Brown. He needs to hold it together this week or the ship could well start to crack and break up. There are growing calls for Wendy Alexander to resign for her receiving of an alleged illegal donation. Alexander is so far standing firm – and I am sure Brown is very relieved about this. Not so much because she is the kid sister of one of his closes allies (Douglas), but rather if she goes then it opens the flood gates. For a start Peter Hain (who seems to have some sort of intermittent amnesia) keeps remembering that he took more and more donations that perhaps he shouldn’t have. The pressure on the DWP secretary will probably be too much to bear and he’ll be out. The real loss though would be Harriet Harman. Imagine if Alexander went for taking a donation but Harman refused to go for taking one that was five time larger? The damage would be deeply embarrassing. Now imagine if she did go?

The knock on effects could prove to be too much

The second deputy leadership contest in six months or so would be underway. Cue competitive candidates all wanting to disassociate themselves from the mess of the past few weeks, the party would start to tear itself apart. Such a contest would be ugly, undignified and played out in public. Then think of the financial cost to the party? Labour’s finances are already in dire straits – and that was before they had to hand back £600k. And who would win such a race? Brown will be praying it isn’t John Cruddas. What sort of endorsement of Brown would that be? A man who would refuse to sit in his cabinet and is as far removed from New Labour and the Brownite project as anyone in with a shout. The damage of all this would be more than a couple of bad autumn months for Brown. This would be permanent. As we have seen over the past few weeks, nothing is certain in politics – but a resignation from Wendy Alexander and the knock on effects could well mark the beginning of the end for Gordon Brown. Brown will, far from trying to get rid of her to save party blushes, will be begging her to stay.

What to do with party funding?

This latest fiasco has raised the question of what to do with party funding. It may surprise you to know that I actually think the problem is not as bad as it is all made out to be. The recent problems have not been because the rules are not effective enough – the problem has been that people are breaking those very rules. Surely the fact that all this is breaking in the news suggests that the rules are actually doing a very good job? If no-one pays the price for breaking these rules, then it is the disciplinary stage that is at fault, not the rules. If Harman is found out to have illegal and knowingly taken a donation, she should not only resign (or be sacked) but face criminal charges. If it is proved otherwise, then she should rightly be exonerated. I agree that the current system is not perfect, but what law is?

The lesser of evils

Let’s take the alternatives. Some suggest that party funding should be done through public money. In my opinion, the worst option of all. Why would a former miner in the coal fields of the North East want to pile his hard earned cash in to the party that closed down his pit and killed his community? Why should a mother who lost her son in Iraq then pay her taxes to the help the party who sent her son to his death get re-elected? There is one thing paying tax to a democratically elected government, it is a very different thing paying you taxes to a political party. I for one will not be happy about knowing that a percentage of my monthly pay cheque if going in to the BNP’s coffers so that they can spread their propaganda.

Lock ‘em up

Then there is the view that there is nothing wrong with donations coming from anonymous sources. Besides, it is the individual’s money and they can choose what they do with it. If I want to send my money to the RSPCA I don’t have to tell the world about it – and I certainly don’t have to then have my entire life put under the media’s microscope. The problem here, of course, is that political parties are not charities in the traditional sense. If I were a billionaire philanthropist I’d hardly give my money to Gordon Brown or David Cameron as a way of trying to do “a little good”. I think there’d be a few other charities ahead of these two power hungry men first – say cancer research, Save the Children – hell, probably a donkey sanctuary! The reason people give money to political parties is political motivated. There is nothing wrong with that, but we’re talking power here – power over all the citizens – and I want to know who is pulling the strings. This is a democracy and I want to know as much as I can about the men and women who have vast control over my life.

The problem isn’t so much the rules (though there maybe a case for some tweaking, but not fundamental change), the problem lies in the crooks and liars who have up to now been getting away with it. Lock a few of these people up and I suspect the rules will suddenly start to look quite stringent.

The “long awaited” Christmas break

What next on the cards for Gordon Brown? Parliament has only been back just over two months, but I am sure he cannot wait for Christmas – not because he strikes me as the sort who loves a good party during the festive season, rather most of the hacks will be on holiday and the few who will be at work will be more interested in the going-ons at Albert Square than Downing Street. It worked for Cameron over the summer – remember he nearly faced a party revolt before the summer recess – and it may well work for Brown. But he needs to change the agenda. Things are not working at home, so maybe he needs to look abroad. A sure fire winner would to be a withdrawal from Iraq. The current position of having 2000 troops there is madness. All they can do is defend themselves – they have no fire power to actually do anything proactive. They are being unnecessarily put at risk. An early announcement would be a good start. Some good news stories from Afghanistan would go down well too. Whatever he does, he needs to take the agenda away from domestic bumbling and on to the big issues and start to look competent… easier said than done, I’m sure!

Brown also needs to establish himself on the international stage, start to be seen as statesman. The question is, does he have it in him? I fear he doesn’t. It is going to be a welcome break for Brown in a couple of weeks, but I imagine Cameron will be enjoying his mince pies a whole lot more than Brown.

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