The Conservative Government has offered a compromise deal on Short money – the cash given to opposition parties in Parliament to carry out their business – and it is just as bad an insult as the original plan.
The scheme has three components:
- Funding to assist an opposition party in carrying out its Parliamentary business
- Funding for the opposition parties’ travel and associated expenses
- Funding for the running costs of the Leader of the Opposition’s office
The original plan was to cut the amount available by 19 per cent, on the pretext that this was in line with savings expected of unprotected Whitehall departments.
But opposition parties aren’t Whitehall departments, and they need to be able to function.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have not cut the amount of money available to the government for the same three components. In fact, funding of Tory travel and associated expenses has hit scandalous highs.
After harsh criticism, the Tories have come back with an offer to shift the formula for calculating the payments from taking account of the Retail Price Index to instead using the Consumer Price Index, which is always a lower rate.
There would be a demand for greater transparency regarding the uses to which the money is put.
And there would be a floor below which Short money cannot fall for the smallest parties in the House of Commons – those with between one and five MPs – of £75,000 a year, and a ceiling of slightly more than £200,000.
The offer would cut the amount of money available to opposition parties by £3.5 million by the end of the decade – a tiny amount in relation to total government spending but a huge loss to its current recipients.
This is not a deal worth taking.
It will hinder Her Majesty’s Opposition parties in the execution of their duties and diminish the effectiveness of Parliament as a check on the behaviour of the Conservative Government.
There should only be one response.
Under long-standing convention, issues of party funding are agreed on a cross-party basis. The Tories have scrapped this in their bid to end Parliamentary democracy and are trying to force a new system on MPs.
If they are determined to behave in this totalitarian way, they should receive a totalitarian response.
Opposition parties should suspend all co-operation with the Conservatives over Parliamentary business, including ‘pairing’.
As a result, it should become impossible for the Conservative Government to pass any legislation at all.
It seems that is the only way to get through to them.
Commons sources say the government is to propose a compromise deal on the funding opposition parties are entitled to – and put it to a vote next week.
There has been a row brewing at Westminster for some time over cuts to so-called Short money.
But sources are confident MPs will back a plan that will save 10% from the total in a vote expected on Wednesday.
Ministers say Short money payments are unduly generous given cutbacks elsewhere in the public sector.
In November, George Osborne’s Autumn Statement revealed plans to cut the funding – named after former Labour MP Ted Short – by 19%, saying this would be in line with savings expected of unprotected Whitehall departments.The plans have been strongly criticised by opposition parties.
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