Report finds money exercises a greater influence than votes in our political system

02 Sep 2022

The last 18 months have seen multiple scandals in the British political system. A report, commissioned by the Institute for Constitutional and Democratic Research (ICDR), reveals a fundamental problem in our political system: money exercises, or appears to exercise, a greater influence than votes.

These findings shine a light on the major flaws in British democracy, as it allows those who can afford it to buy a louder voice, undermining the very thing that constitutes a democratic society. This, coupled with the current rules on political finance that are excessively complex and fail to address the core problem, shows that more work is needed to combat these issues.

Whilst the majority of the public supports stringent methods to crack down on economic corruption in the political system, many politicians are out of step with the electorate on this issue.

The report Money and Democracy: Three steps to reform political funding in the UK was authored by Sam Fowles, leading public law barrister at Cornerstone Barristers and lecturer at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford.

The report proposes three simple solutions:

  1. Cap political donations at a level affordable to the poorest in society. This will mean that every citizen can afford to make the largest possible donation (if they so choose).
  2. Make ministerial ethics and parliamentary standards decisions appealable to the courts so that politicians no longer “mark their own homework” on corruption issues.
  3. Prohibit legislators from speaking, advocating, or voting where they have a financial conflict of interest. This brings parliament in line with best practice in the private and charitable sectors.

John Nicolson MP, Vice Chair of the APPG on Democracy and the Constitution, says: “I am pleased to be the SNP representative on the APPG and commend the report. The UK is today embroiled in fierce constitutional debate. However, too little thoughtful analysis is happening – at least at Westminster – on how and whether our constitutional system can be reformed. Democracy, human rights and freedom inspire people today every bit as much as they did in the last century. This report could not be more timely.

Sam Fowles says: “Democracies can only function when the public has faith in the political system. The perception of corruption around certain MPs and ministers tars the entire political system. Removing it will enhance the faith of voters in politicians and, crucially, in their own power as citizens to influence and engage with politics. This report highlights these issues and, when used correctly, can help rebuild our eroding democracy.

 For too long we have bemoaned the ethical problems in our politics whilst doing next nothing to fix the problem. A new PM gives us a new chance to raise standards in our politics. The vast majority of the public support the proposals in this report. Politicians need to catch up. Whoever is announced next week has an opportunity to grasp the nettle and restore some faith in our democracy by implementing these reforms.”

 

The ICDR is a non-partisan charity dedicated to raising the standard of public discourse around constitutional and democratic issues. Andy Lane is a trustee of the ICDR and Philip Coppell QC, Lisa Busch QC, Estelle Dehon QC and Ryan Kohli are all fellows. More information on the ICDR fellows can be found here.

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