Leading the debate on party funding
In the mid-2000s, Unlock Demcracy's predecessor organisation the New Politics Network lead the debate on the need to reform party funding, calling for a number of reforms including:
- Greater transparency;
- A lower cap on national expenses limits, alongside a higher cap on local limits;
- An annual limit on donations from individual people, companies and organisations;
- A system of state funding in which parties would be given an incentive to engage with as many members of the public as possible.
The New Politics Network published a series of publications on the topic including Strong Parties, Clean Politics (2003), Broadening Participation - Thinking Beyond Party Membership (2003), Life Support for Local Parties (2004) and Party Funding - Supporting the Grassroots (2007). As well as original research, it also campaigned to raise awareness of the issues concerned and developed two websites - Cleanpolitix.com (2003) and Party Watch (2004) which reproduced the Electoral Commission's register of donations to political parties in a more accessible and searchable format.
The New Politics Network's research significantly influenced the Electoral Commission's 2004 report on party funding (pdf). Following the emergence of the "cash for peerages" scandal in 2006, the New Politics Network's work went on to influence the Review of Funding of Political Parties chaired by Sir Hayden Phillips in 2007 (pdf).
Many of the loopholes which New Politics Network - including the ability for political parties to avoid reporting donations by categorising it as a loan - have now been closed. Unlock Democracy is continuing to campaign for caps on donations and systems to encourage political parties to engage with more members of the public.