If the justifications for party funding reform are easy to identify, so too are the difficulties associated with it. The central problem facing any attempt to bring about reform of party funding remains the one identified by the Phillips review in 2007 – if ‘big money’ is to be taken out of politics, where will the parties be able to turn to access the finance they need to fund their operations?
There is no quick fix to this conundrum. There is no mythical ‘golden age’ of mass party membership to return to. Even when party membership and activism were at their peak in the 1950s, Labour and the Conservatives were dependent, respectively, upon the financial resources secured via trade union and business donations. Neither is there any ‘future fix’ on the horizon – the cost of party politics is not going to fall as parties embrace the ‘new media’ of Twitter and Facebook, or even the ‘old media’ of live television debates.
If the party funding conundrum is to be addressed, a long-term strategic approach to reform will be required. Such an approach must be rooted in robust evidence, clear guiding principles and a pragmatic approach to securing cross-party agreement.