In the spending review yesterday George Osborne announced he was cutting the money given to opposition parties in the House of Commons by 19%. This is another way of undermining our democracy at a time when millions of people are about to be removed from the electoral register, freedom of information, our right to know, is being restricted and our constitution is being rewritten behind closed doors with the devolution deals.
It may sound trivial but short money matters. It is one of the small ways in which our political system checks the incredible power of the executive. The government has the civil service to help it develop policy, opposition parties in the House of Commons have Short money. It is designed to level the playing field, to ensure that they have at least some resources to scrutinise policy and hold the government to account.
Intriguingly the cuts only seem to apply to opposition parties in the House of Commons. The equivalent system for the House of Lords is called Cranbourne money and was not mentioned in the announcement yesterday. So the unaccountable second chamber will still be funded. It is difficult to see this as anything other than an attack on the accountability of our political system.
If we are not funding our political parties then who is going to step into the breach? Our party funding system has been crying out for change for years, it creates the perception that money buys access and influence and undermines trust in our democracy. This cut in short money is going to make that significantly worse. It will weaken opposition parties, making them even more dependent on big donors and management consultants like PwC or KPMG who provide them with "free" secondments to help develop policy. It won’t of course impact on the government who will be able to continue to appoint as many Special Advisers as they see fit at taxpayers expense.
Giving money to political parties is never going to be a popular move but if we want to hold the government to account, if we want political parties to look to voters and not big corporations then we have to do it.