Recently a rather nasty campaign has been fought over the internet about the Ealing Southall by-election. Labour and Conservative and Liberal blogs have thrown slurs at each other- about a variety of practices. The most recent incident though has been a revelation about the Conservative candidate Tony Lit, who the Observer reports, gave a donation of 4,800 pounds to the Labour party earlier this year. Labour party members are of course overjoyed by this- and Tories less so. But it is interesting that two conservative bloggers have come up with a plausible reason for Lit to have done what he did- a plausible reason that is deeply worrying not for the conduct of the individual parties but for a far deeper question that it raises about the conduct of our democracy.
Iain Dale noted on his blog that Lit gave the funds in order to get a seat for his corporation at an event that the Prime Minister attended, another blogger Dizzy argues that this is just normal business practice- that it goes on at every business up and down the land and involves all the major parties- essentially why should we begrudge Tony Lit the chance to attempt to buy the opportunity to sit at the same table as Blair and persuade him of the merits of some case to do with his business when every other business does it- just because he is a Tory. If what these bloggers say is true then it reflects something which is rather more interesting than the original allegations- ultimately it speaks rather badly of the way that political funding works in this country and that far more importantly policy formation works.
What they are essentially arguing is that in policy formation one of the stages is that those with money and an interest in the policy buy a seat at the table- and that it would be irresponsible for any businessman not to buy such a seat- what a businessman buys when he buys that seat is of course influence- and the biggest influence goes to those with the best argument and the biggest wallet. Essentially the Tory bloggers' case for Lit makes the case for a capping of donations whether corporate or individual to political parties because it demonstrates the corruption of the system- money it seems gets you the ability to talk to a politician in a way that a normal person never would have. Money obtains Tony Lit, an entrepreuneur a direct entry into politics, the way that teachers and doctors don't have because they don't have the money. That doesn't seem to me to be a neccessarily wise way to run a commonwealth.
I can't look into the soul of Tony Lit and tell you whether his blood runs blue or whether he is a carpet bagger who has just seen a good opportunity to run for the Tories- what I can say is that every time that I perceive people buying access to the Prime Minister, my reaction is to recoil instantly and think about reforming the financing of parties (not necessarily to give the state a bigger role- but definitely to give the membership a bigger role through say a donation's cap). What this incident doesn't establish is Mr Lit's sincerity or otherwise- what it does is the rotten state of party funding and corporate influence in our democracy.
(The Photo of Tony Blair and Tony Lit together above is courtesy of Unity and is from the fundraiser that both attended.)