The US elections this year cost more than the GDP of Barbados (according to Wikipedia). Yes, the USA has about a thousand times more people than Barbados, but nevertheless, this was only an election. I’ve just used my calculator to work out that the election was the equivalent of a levy on every US citizen (and probably a few legal/ illegal immigrants, too – I don’t know how population figures are reached) of about $2.
In Britain (our population is about 4 times smaller than the US), we’re a bit less extravagant. Parliamentary candidates are limited to £7,150 plus 7p per elector in the countryside and 5p per voter in conurbations. Parties can spend up to £30,000 per seat. The BBC adds that up to ‘£19.5m if they fight every constituency’.
I presume that that means that (how many thats can I get in?) party money comes on top of candidates’ individual wonga. So, my MP could have spent £7,150 plus £5,427.52 (7p x 77,536 electors) = £12,577.52. Additionally, the Tories (the incumbent’s party) could have spent up to £30,000. So, our MP’s campaign could have cost £42,577.52. That’s way more than I’ve earnt per annum ever ever ever. That’s what an opera costs to put on. (I know which is more worth it…) If this were public funding, that would be 55p per person for that one candidate.
Of course, elections are not publicly funded, and this means that parties, and especially the three major parties, have a major advantage: small parties or individuals have to be extremely lucky to get any money at all. ‘No money, no voice’ is not a good concept for a democracy, where surely the range of the demos’ opinions should be represented (tot homines, quot sententiae, after all. Or is it the other way round?).
The current party-political advertising is unhelpful, anyway. First, there is too little information about individual candidates and their own views and policies. Secondly, advertising tends to highlight the party brand rather than policies. The general public are more intelligent than politicians think, and we can deal with real information.
Let’s have a total review of election campaigning. Localising it would be good – if you’re voting for your local councillor, information about individual candidates; similarly, your local MP. What party they belong to should be less important than who they are and why they should represent your area. Limiting campaign costs much further would also be good, and any individual or party should be able to apply for state funding assistance, or there should be state-produced, non-partisan literature to which candidates could contribute or appear on. I rather fancy having old-fashioned moots everywhere, complete with flying rotten eggs.
Ideally, election reforms should play down the importance of parties so that we might drag ourselves out of this juvenile adversarial political system. Adversaries work well in court and in meetings, but not in public in Parliament.