Several weeks ago I asked you to vote in a poll which was all about the future impact of technology on politics. Orange asked the same questions through Total Politics of every elected politician in the country. More than 2,700 of them took part. Perhaps the most interesting result from the poll was that 75 per cent said they agreed in future parties must win most of their funding through large numbers of small donations. Liberal Democrats expressed the fullest support with 82 per cent agreeing on the need for change, with the Conservatives on 76 per cent and Labour on 74 per cent. The figure for readers of this blog was 74%.
The question is, how is this going to happen. None of the political parties in this country are actively marketing online donations. The Conservatives spent a huge amount of money (I'm told £500,000) trying to persuade people to become 'Friends of the Conservative Party' rather than full members. Only a couple of hundred people signed up. Not exactly great value for money. But if a limit of £50,000 is imposed on individual donations, the shortfall is going to have to be made up from other sources - one of which must be online.
There is a school of thought which thinks it is not possible in this country to attract a myriad of small donations from individual donors. The David Davis by-election provides some counter evidence, although that was a one off rather than an ongoing campaign asking for money. People will also cite pressure groups or charities like the RSPCA who, as well as being mass membership organisations, also have a substantial online donor base. If they can do it, why can't political parties?
In addition, people point to the USA and see the huge amounts of money being raised on individual campaigns and think, 'well, if they can do it, why can't we?' Part of the reason is that there is a much more embedded culture of philanthropy, even among the less well off. But the political culture is also different. It is far more geared to a permanent campaign for an individual candidate rather than a political party. Politics is far less centralised. There is no reason why that won't change here, but it will be a long term change of culture, rather than something which will happen immediately. But if it is to happen, the parties must want it to happen and take proper advice. The Tories have so far wasted huge amounts of money on their online operations, at least in part because they have not taken that advice. But the other parties aren't any further ahead in this area.
I suspect the marketing expert who comes up with an answer to this question will become very rich.