Thursday 30 November 2023

One rule for spin doctors, another for real doctors

 It seems that a pay settlement for senior doctors is close, though the outcome is going to be short of the full uprating to take account of inflation. Contrast that with what was set in motion three years ago,  to increase election spending limits in line with inflation. There is a case for doing this, though as The Constitution Unit blog pointed out

raising limits is one thing; how you raise them is another. One approach would be to raise them immediately in line with the value of money in time for the next election. This would set the new limit at nearly £38 million at 2022 prices – even higher at 2023 ones. The danger of doing this would be (at least) twofold.

First, it would be very likely to widen the spending gap between the two largest parties and their competitors. While the Liberal Democrats actually outspent Labour in 2019 (having received a donation of some £8 million just prior to the campaign), the typical pattern has been that the Liberal Democrats have spent between 24% and 37% of the Conservatives’ campaign expenditure. Given the Liberal Democrats’ lack of a natural pool of large donors, the gap between higher and lower-spending parties would be likely to widen quite significantly.

Second, while parties’ income typically reflects the general election cycle, party popularity at any one time is influential in their ability to raise income. In 2019, the Conservatives raised over £19 million in declared donations in the short period between dissolution and polling day. Labour, by way of contrast, raised only £5.4 million, 61% of which came from one source – Unite. So, a significantly larger spending limit would almost certainly benefit those parties that were most able to raise money – typically, the most popular ones. The concern here is not which party benefits, but that parties that are most popular at the time of the spending limits uplift would be most able to exploit this higher limit and would be disproportionately advantaged.

The government has, however, gone ahead with the full uprating, at the same time moving to increase the threshold at which donations to political parties have to be declared from £7,500 to £11,180. The Electoral Commission is not happy:

The Commission's research shows a long-term decline in public confidence in the political finance system.

Any changes to spending or reporting thresholds must be supported by rigorous analysis, including on the likely impact on public confidence and transparency.

The Commission has not seen evidence to support these changes. It is concerned that the proposals risk damaging the transparency of political donations, and gives significantly more scope for higher spending parties to campaign.

Moreover, there seems to have been no move to increase the size of penalties in line with inflation, let alone raising them to a level at which they would present a real deterrent, as the EC has long wished.

No comments: