This is clearly a question we have to ask if we want to make sure that money cannot buy influence, a question we need to tackle if we want increased diversity in parliament.
I have been thinking about this for a while now, gathering some anecdotal evidence as I went along. Yesterday I came across an old article at Conservative Home which shows that the Conservative Party thought about this issue back in 2006 (hat tip to Alan Renwick, who linked it on twitter).
Their calculation was that at that point, a seat was likely to cost more than £ 40 000. – the article is worth reading, since it discusses all the various expenses – some of them probably unexpected for many.
I don’t know whether the Tories have brought these costs under control – but experiences of people who stood for the Liberal Democrats in past elections suggests that while things are done a bit differently in the LibDems, this estimate is not exaggerated – with no safe seats, many parliamentary candidates become full time campaigners long before the election campaign: houses are remortgaged, savings used up – some spend months sleeping on friends’ sofas to bring down living costs, some end up financially ruined if they don’t win the seat and can’t find a reasonably well paid job soon.
No safe seats – no cheap seats, either.
Well, many will now ask why this should matter: these people are ambitious and willing to pay for it – so why not? I am not suggesting that we should be awfully concerned for those who have already made it (pity for politicians? That would be a lost cause!).
But we should be worried about the impact on our political system, if personal wealth is (albeit not explicitly) a crucial selection criterion for those who are supposed to represent us all
How many people have a few grand at their disposal or know how to raise that kind of money from donors (preferably not dodgy ones who’ll demand favours in return)? How representative could they possibly be of the country?
I know too many people who’d make brilliant MPs, but don’t have much chance to get there under these circumstances.
Do we really want to select our parliament on the basis of relative wealth?
I know I don’t: it doesn’t sound like democracy to me.