From time to time the total inadequacy of our parliamentary democracy is brought starkly into view. Today is one of those occasions.
Can it possibly be anything other than deeply dangerous and anti-democratic for the ruling party to make decisions on the funding of opposition parties?
Yet that is exactly what George Osborne has just done. He is proposing to take away almost a fifth of taxpayer funding from Labour and other opposition parties.
Given Labour and the Lib Dems in particular rely heavily on so-called Short Money, this seems nakedly political, striking at the heart of the opposition’s ability to hold the executive to account.
From the Spending Review document, published earlier today by the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer:
The government has taken a series of steps to reduce the cost of politics, including cutting and freezing ministerial pay, abolishing pensions for councillors in England and legislating to reduce the size of the House of Commons. However, since 2010, there has been no contribution by political parties to tackling the deficit. Indeed, taxpayer-funded Short Money has risen year-on-year from £6.9 million in 2010-11 to £9.3 million in 2015-16. 108
Therefore, subject to confirmation by Parliament, the government proposes to reduce Short Money allocations by 19%, in line with the average savings made from unprotected Whitehall departments over this Spending Review. Allocations will then be frozen in cash terms for the rest of the Parliament, removing the automatic RPI indexation. Policy Development Grant allocations will also be reduced by a similar proportion, ensuring that political parties in receipt of taxpayer-funding contribute to the savings being asked of local and central government.