I don’t refer to diminutive Speaker John Bercow buying a celebratory round of single malts in the House of Commons bar. With Westminster’s bars subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £7million that wouldn’t involve much money at all, short or otherwise, and I suspect Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell, while appreciating the gesture, would prefer an orange juice and a McFlurry respectively. No, I refer to the extra funding UKIP should be awarded now that they are a Westminster party.
This so called “short money” was introduced in 1975 to assist a party in carrying out its Parliamentary business, for research and opposing the government of the day. The current rate payable to Opposition parties is £16,689.13 for every MP plus £33.33 for every 200 votes gained by the party at the last General Election.
To qualify for this money, a political party must have a minimum of two MPs. Alternatively one MP is enough to qualify, if the party won more than 150,000 votes at the last election. UKIP clearly qualify for this funding, now with two MPs and not far off of a million votes in 2010. At the current rate, UKIP are entitled to £186,608 for 2014/15, or at least a pro rata amount for the last 6 months of the parliament; £93,304. I await with interest the creative contortions the establishment will go through to conjure an excuse not to give UKIP this cash.
For smaller Westminster parties short money can amount to a significant injection of funds. Plaid Cymru has 3 MPs, won 165,000 votes in 2010 and this year they were allocated £77,598 in short money. The Greens have one MP, and with 284,000 votes in 2010 were allocated £64,151. The SNP has 6 MPs on 491,000 votes, and this year were assigned £187,294 in short money. This is on top of MPs salaries and their generous expenses, which pay for their own offices and staff.
Larger Westminster parties get a bigger slice of the cake. In Ed Miliband‘s Labour party we are blessed with an official government opposition that does precious little to hold the government to account, despite being paid £6.9million of the taxpayer’s money, mostly in short money, to do precisely that. Labour make a lot of noise but oppose very little, and provide an alternative even less. UKIP have done a much better job of holding the government to account. Perhaps Mr Miliband will have an attack of conscience and hand some of that £6.9million over?
If UKIP can return at least one MP in May next year and, to pick a figure out of the air, repeat the four million votes they won at the EU elections, they will be assigned £666,000 in short money. The more MPs and the more votes UKIP win, the more money they will get, helping them to make a real impact at Westminster in the next parliament. Every UKIP vote will win the party 16p in funding, even those cast in the (increasingly rare) safe seats.
Of course while every penny is very welcome when fighting the good fight, any extra funding is no more than a bonus. The true value of having UKIP representation in the House of Commons is priceless; able to challenge and expose the cosy consensus that has diminished our politics and our country for decades, to ask difficult questions and to showcase UKIP principles.
Other soft benefits will pay huge dividends in the run up to, and immediate aftermath of, next year’s General Election. In Carswell and Reckless any new UKIP MPs will have two colleagues with years of Westminster experience to call on. UKIP’s new MPs in May 2015, however many of them there are, will be able to hit the ground running, with some friendly faces in an otherwise hostile House of Commons to show them the ropes, shortcuts and pitfalls.
Perhaps even more important still, UKIP’s first two elected MPs give the British people hope. When everyone can see that voting UKIP gets UKIP, there is no reason whatever to vote for whichever of the other three parties you consider to be the least worst. Real change is possible.