Monday, March 20, 2006

Disturbing...

Iain Dale forecasts a resignation during the summer.

I've given up forecasting when Tony will call it a day. He's had a number of chances to go and good reasons to resign, but has hung on in there. Broadly, he's still been an electoral asset to the party, but perhaps that is actually shifting, as the latest result from YouGov shows his personal rating dropping to a new low. The problems do seem to be piling up - the dodgy education bill looks like progressing through parliament only at the whim of the Tories (don't forget that there are an awful lot more stages for this bill to pass yet and at each, the Tories will remind us that they are getting the proposals through). The press have got their teeth into political funding, so we can expect a feeding frenzy around that issue for a while. The most damaging thing about that is that the Party leadership are publically unhappy with the affair - from Jack Dromey putting the cat among the pigeons this week to John Prescott admitting that he didn't know anything about the loans.

There has been remarkably little political hay made this week by other politicians. Partly this is to let the Labour Party stew in its own juice, but mostly this is to avoid drawing attention to the fact that everybody does it to one degree or another. Politics costs money and no party has enough members to cover their costs through membership fees. Donors have to be sought and it is far more cost-effective to pursue a few rich and generous patrons than try and collect a few quid from thousands of individuals. However you cut it, it will lead to, at the very least, a perception that this buys influence and/or an honour. Hell, sometimes it does - let's not be prissy about it. It sure as hell buys access - if somebody has given your party a few hundred thousand pounds, you'll take their phone call. Bear in mind that this applies to all parties and probably always has - in all things, the golden age is mythical.

So, how do we square this circle? Full disclosure and absolute transparency is one way - we're heading in the right direction (do remember that we've come further in the past nine years than for decades before - and that was brought about by a need to clean up the system). However, that's still not going to remove the suspicions about politicians. In my experience, most of them hate the fund-raising part of the job - they don't like having to ask for money.

Prescott's in favour of state funding - and I suspect that this will form a part of the answer. We then need to convince the public that funding democracy is a valid use of taxation. Further, we then need to convince them that this will mean funding startup parties and the smaller parties like (gulp) the BNP. Then we have to devise a formula that works (I'd guess something based on membership and votes cast in favour across the country).

But in the meantime, how's Tony doing?

Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated before, so I'm not going to write another political obituary. The time is near when he will have to hand over and resigning in the summer is as plausible as every last rumour of his imminent departure. Many have said that Blair has an eye on Thatcher's record, which would indicate a retirement date sometime in 2008, but Gordon's profile of late would suggest otherwise. Certainly, he's been taking a higher profile of late and speaking out on non-Treasury issues - he's positioning himself ready for the fight, so my guess is by the end of 2007.

That said, I've been wrong before. Many, many times.

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