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Campaign fund

James Cary


The job of the liturgist is to make the complex sound simple, the mundane poetic and the paradoxical self-evidently true. Someone's got their work cut out with the deeply awkward phrase 'standing order' which is finding its way into Church services up and down the land as the vicar gives thanks for the offering.

The reason is obvious. Many people, including me, give to their church by standing order. So when the offertory hymn is sung, they pass simply along the collection plate - or, even better, the collection bag since money is so vulgar who would ever want to look at it? Churches much prefer standing orders because they're regular, so they can budget and it means they can gouge out an extra 20 per cent or so from George Osborn.

The decision to give regularly means that collection is not an afterthought, a guilt offering or, even worse, a tip for the service. Nice sermon vicar. Have an extra fiver. Standing order giving shows that the congregant has thought about their affiliation to the church, its theology, values and practices and is committed to supporting it. It is essentially part of membership. Theoretically, membership and discipline should be organised around the Eucharist, but nobody does that any more. Offering each other a sign of peace is part of that too, but nobody thinks about that either. They just want that bit to be over - if they're Anglican, at least.

According to Dr Peter Brierley, Church membership in 2010 was about 11% of the population, a decline since 1900 when just over 30% of the nation were church members. Some would claim this is a sign of spiritual death - and so let those badly supported institutions wither and die. Right? But the church is still doing ten times better than politics. In 2010, only one per cent of the electorate was a member of one of the three main political parties. So during the election, just over 0.4% of the electorate were members of the Conservative Party or Labour parties. And 0.1% were members of the Liberal Democrats. That's 49,000 members. That's the population of Andover. This tiny party is now in government.

Surely, these political institutions should be allowed to wither and die. Right? Wrong. There is a rising tide of opinion that political parties should be state funded. Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the committee on standards in public life, has written a report on this, and I'll quote the Guardian so you'll see they're in favour of it: 'from 2015 there should be a £3-per-vote state funding for the parties, representing £23m a year over five years. This amounts to 50p per elector a year, little more than the cost of a first-class stamp.' See? Hardly costs anything! What a great idea.

So let's ossify the current political status quo that seems to be working incredibly well for everyone. Everyone, except those who can't find jobs, and those who have hard full time jobs but can't even make enough to live on. Meanwhile, we subsidise banks, to ensure multi-millionaires continue to get large bonuses without ever risking a penny of their own money. And now, we look set to subsidise the very people who decide that's a good idea. Giving government money to existing political parties will permanently prevent the prospect of any real change. But everyone currently in power is obviously fine with that, since they're doing okay out of the current system.

The only losers are the voters, obviously, who get to tick one box every five years on a rag bag of cynical election pledges that aren't in any way binding. Funny that election turnouts are so low. The politicians really haven't noticed that nobody cares about them. Nobody. Even a verbose over-sexed celebrity who dresses like a pirate at the age of 38 has noticed. Even Russell Brand's interviewer Jeremy Paxman later agreed that 'People are sick of the tawdry pretences' of politics and that Westminster is 'a remote and self-important echo-chamber'.

The commentators and bureaucrats are worried that without enough money coming from grass roots, big business and interest groups muscle in with big donations and create a conflict of interest. No-one cares. There is no interest. The RSPB has a million members. The National Trust has 3.7 million - all paying money every year for something they believe in. People are more interested in birds, old buildings and Jesus than they are in politics. That is the real problem. And no-one will be surprised when the politicians vote they can dip into the sea of money to justify their own existence.