This is what happens when you fund political parties using taxpayers' money:
The excellent Open Europe think-tank reports in its Daily Press Summary that the British National Party (BNP) are to receive a share of the £130,000 of funding that the EU has been obliged to provide to a grouping of extreme nationalist political parties. The entry of Bulgaria and Romania has given such parties sufficient representation in the European parliament to entitle them to the funding that is automatically provided by the EU to pan-European political groups.
If Britain goes down the same route of funding political parties out of central taxation, it will be interesting to see how the rules are written. Will it be broad enough to accommodate all serious political parties, including those with modest support or outrageous views? Or will it attempt to narrow it down to established parties, making it more difficult for groups with new ideas to enter the political scene?
There is no winning this game of picking losers. The only way to win is not to play. Parties should be funded, without limits, by those who think it is sufficiently important that their party's ideas be promoted to the electorate. If a party cannot raise funding, it should improve its offering, find more supporters, or accept that its ideas no longer garner enough support to deserve promoting. If the system is left to its own devices, tired old parties will go, and innovative new parties will arrive, as they should.
The major parties don't like this because they are looking tired and old, and their membership is in serious decline. That is not a reason to prop them up. It is a reason to let them go.
The way to deal with the possibility that the present system provides for the rich to buy power and influence is to remove the Prime Minister's powers of appointment to the second chamber. If people are vain or shallow enough to want to buy knighthoods or gongs, and we are stupid enough to elect politicians venal enough to sell them, then so be it - those honours bring no power within our political system.
There has never been a way to stop rich people buying prestige, and there never will be. Nor is there any way to prevent impressionable politicians from being influenced by the powerful aura of the affluent. But they can only buy direct power if we allow our politicians to appoint those outside our political system to positions of power such as seats in the House of Lords (or executive positions on quangos). The second chamber should be neither appointed nor elected in national elections - it should be a meritocracy of representatives of various sectors of society and industry, chosen by members of those sectors, to try to remove party politics as far as possible from the process of review and correction in the legislature.
Underlying the fear of political patronage is the apprehension that parties who raise more money get more votes. Only if you think the electorate are idiots would you confuse promotion of political ideas with the inevitable success of those ideas at the ballot box. If the electorate are really so stupid as to vote for the party with the glossiest posters and slickest blogs, they deserve to get what they vote for.
The reason to oppose the BNP receiving state money is not that this will make them more attractive to more voters, but that they don't deserve any of my money (nor yours, I hope). I resent the taxman forcing me to give him money that will be given to an organisation like that.
Isn't it convenient how the venality of our political leaders can become, in their hands, a reason for them and their parties to receive more money from us? A key test of whether a politician deserves your support at the next election should be whether they support (or if it's a fait accompli, have supported) state-funding for parties. If so, vote for someone else. Anyone else (except for the bigots of the BNP).