Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Yes, we have no hallmarks of a banana republic

Spending during the general election campaign period is limited by law… But there are no rules governing how much money can go to promoting candidates outside the official election period. Under the government's Party Funding Bill, spending would be strictly limited as soon as a candidate was selected.

This policy has widely been seen as targeting so-called ‘Ashcroft money’ – hefty pre-election funding for Conservative candidates in target Labour-held seats. The Tories oppose this restriction, and in doing so they seem to have accepted an interesting principle:

Tory frontbencher Francis Maude said: "For a governing party to rig election rules just months before an election in order to cling on to power has all the hallmarks of a banana republic. It is quite proper for the Electoral Commission to raise concerns over such partisan moves by the government, and there is also a real prospect of a legal challenge in the courts against such flawed new laws."

Why is it that this is a “partisan” attempt to “rig election rules”? The proposed new rules would apply to all parties equally. The answer can only be that, because of the unique way the Conservative Party is funded, it would hit them harder than other parties. But surely they’re not just engaged in self-interested special pleading? No, I cannot possibly countenance the thought.

So this is the principle they must be working on: any proposal that, while nominally applying across the board, would in fact disproportionately hit one party’s fundraising/spending strategy, is illegitimate and must be opposed. It’s a bit like indirect discrimination, I guess.

The Tories will apply the same principle, we can be sure, in rejecting any attempt to curb union funding of political parties. Won’t they…?

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