Elite Responses to Public Perceptions of Corruption in Party Finance: The (ir)Responsible Party Model?

Thursday, July 13, 2017
JWS - Room J15 (J375) (University of Glasgow)
Samuel Power , University of Sussex
Party funding reform in Western Europe, with certain exceptions, occurs in a move from private to state subsidisation. Key to such legislation being enacted is the response of political parties to declining membership, this decline arguably being indicative of a decline in the legitimacy of said parties. Furthermore, recent attempts at reform in both Great Britain and Denmark have been largely driven by perceptions of corruption, perhaps highlighting a wider anti-political malaise. However, since previous political party finance research shows us that the public have little knowledge of how the funding system actually works, public opinion is unlikely to offer a rational course of action for effective reform. The paper considers the extent to which elite responses to these perceptions, in attempting to enact reform, can be understood as encapsulating a reformulated understanding of the responsible party model – and whether this is desirable. The paper is a qualitative, comparative study of recent attempts in Denmark (2014/15) and Great Britain (2007-present) and is based on documentary research, the study of party accounts and 43 elite interviews. The findings suggest that we can understand elite responses as (somewhat) electorally rational and – in the sense that these reforms are seen as an attempt to shore up political legitimacy and quell wider anti-political sentiment – a reformulation of the responsible party model. However, allowing these reforms to be driven by public perception could be held to be indicative of a wider irresponsibility.