openDemocracyUK

The problem is not party funding - it's parties full stop

There's no surprise that it costs a lot to dine with the British Prime Minister. But calls for party funding reform are misguided – we need to undermine the parties, not strengthen them.

Tony Curzon Price
Tony Curzon Price
26 March 2012

Cash for access. Again. So £250k gets you dinner and chat?... prices of everything that is really scarce and sought after have gone up, haven't they? ... there was a time when that might have got you a peerage, with all the advantages of a permament capacity to poke your fingers into legislation for the interest that was stumping up the original money. 

But surprise and outrage seem strange. We know that money buys political access. Time in power is time to fill party coffers. And parties have organisations that need that money: researchers, strategists, paying for the right kinds of activists. And of course, focus groups and the advertising campaigns they spawn at election time.

The political party used to make sense: mass organisations like trade unions and churches with mass media like newspapers had their counterpart mass parties. It all went with mass production and mass consumption. And, of course, Cold War, with its convenient division of the world into stark alternatives. 

But every single one of the real bases of mass parties has now been emptied of real life. They are simply self-perpetuating organisations of power, devoid of projects, beliefs or democratic legitimacy. And once an institution is untethered, money quickly enters to fill any vacuum of purpose. 

So how should we react to new evidence of this utterly unsurprising reality? By making sure that we organise socially and politically outside the party system, and in a way that aims to make it subservient to our interests. As long as, apathetically, we leave the institutions of government to these lifeless husks, they will abuse power and corrupt our politics.

"Occupy everything" should not mean that we oppose everything; it should mean that we re-occupy the political system that we abandoned when we moved on from the society of the mass and left the power-addled apparatchiks to grab the helm.

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