July 16, 2007

Tony Lit's donation

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.)


edmund said...

How does this corporate donation? Make the case for capping ones from individuals? surely it it's a case against anything it's a case against corporate donations from businesses and unions- I'm against banning them but that's the case ( and this is not peculiar in fact it's quite mild)- the union donations gain them a say in the ruling bodies of the labour party , choosing its leadership and on policy for example

And why is the use of money to gain attention (not even influence) peculiarly corrupting. Surely the same could be said of any other attempt to influence public discourse by using things others don’t' have. In fact quite a lot of people have £5,000, other things (for example a radio station or being a jounistlit or good looks) much fewer people have access to.

At root this is a problem with democracy -made by its earlier opponents, the effect of democracy is to make those in power pander to their influential, money is the one of the more equalible form of this after votes. Others for example access to major media are much more restrictive and will still exist. To cut off one of the boarder means for endangered small shops say or trade unionist to have a say is an odd response to political pluralism.

Tony lilt makes this case well- most companies could have bought that place. But he is the conservative party candidate because of his status-in particular sunrise corporation and the lilt family's power. This has nothing to do with any donating-and is much more inequitable/ the result of “influence” -do you want to ban that? Disparities of power are the natural result of political pluralism- donation caps weaken rather than strengthen this effect not least in preventing outsiders getting involved.

Why is it ok for David Cameroun to appeal to the BBC's biases but not Tony Blair union donation money?

And it's a corporate donation-not an individual as I understand it (and I don't know m much about this) it's clear enough it's arguably libellous to imply "lilt" did so as for example Tom Watson has been doing. It also certainly implies nothing about his politics-like most such companies they've done similar stuff for the Tories for example.