Posted: March 17th, 2022
Campaign finances are often discussed in a negative light in the United States. How do campaign and party finances in Europe differ across Europe? Is there a particular aspect of this discussion that you think American political parties could learn from? Why or why not?
The financing of political campaigns in the United States is often viewed in a predominately negative perspective. Compared to certain countries in Europe where the discussion of campaign finances seems to be treated with less animosity. In Europe the political parties have a larger responsibility than they do in the United States, the acquisition of resources is more vital to the success of European political parties. In comparison to Europe, the United States tends to vest more power in the individual political candidates rather than political parties. Due to the United States’ tendency to allocate power to the individual candidates instead of the political parties the way that European countries do, there is a lack of transparency in how campaign finances are incurred and spent.
In Europe political parties can gain monetary funding through external and internal avenues in order to run their organization and compete successfully in election campaigns. Political parties tend to spend more on the latter of the two through advertising and designing their campaigns to win elections. Internally political parties generate revenue through membership dues, fund raising and claiming a percentage of their member’s incomes. Externally political parties in Europe generate monetary funds in three other important ways: interest groups, donors, and state funding. Receiving funding from these external resources can be received positively or negatively. The primary concern of receiving too much funding from interest groups or donors is that often these funds are often conditional in their nature requiring political parties meet the demands of the person/group giving them money. State funding, on the other hand offers a solution to the need to appease and earn money from other external sources.
Different countries across Europe utilize public funding to offset the corruption created by political parties who take money from financial backers with ulterior motives. In Germany, parties who win a percentage of the vote in the election are rewarded with large amounts of public funding. In Germany this has been beneficial and even allows political parties to use what is leftover to support other parties that share ideals that promote liberal democracies in poorer post-communist countries. In other countries in Europe such as Italy, although state funding was supplied, there was no cease in corruption. It is also debated weather public funding truly eliminates the political parties’ ties to their source of money. The government may still make demands or monitor the political parties use of their funding they receive and therefore the political parties are potentially public service agencies. Due to this, transparency has the potential to be increased, but even with increased transparency there is still likely to be suspicion about corruption still existing. Individual party candidates compete in elections on the party platform. Therefore, the individual candidates have little need for large accumulation of money for their own personal campaign. This reinforces the idea in Europe that the political parties are more powerful than the individuals themselves who are running for election. This prioritization of the political party’s ideals over the individual’s ideals is what the United States could learn from European Politics. United States candidates are more dependent on non-party groups because of the need for private funding for their campaigns which makes the individual more susceptible to their financial supporters wants and demands during their term. Thus, increasing the level of corruption in the United States.
Pick a particular leader from a European country and describe their rise to power. Why do you believe that your choice became so influential?
While Theresa May’s three years in office as the United Kingdom’s second female prime minister is widely viewed as a failure, the unusual circumstances leading up to her becoming prime minister are worth examining (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020, p. 303). After two unsuccessful attempts to get elected to parliament, in 1997 May was elected Conservative MP of a newly created post in Maidenhead in the Tory stronghold section of Berkshire, England, where she has continuously served ever since (May, 2022). When political parties desire success for a particular candidate, they will often find creative ways in which to give “their” candidate the best odds of winning. It is possible that the creation of the Maidenhead post, served this purpose for May. As an MP in the House of Commons for the opposition, May became the first female chairman of the Conservative Party and served in many shadow cabinet positions (May, 2022). Shadow cabinets mirror the roles of government ministers in order to follow the agenda of the government’s cabinet, often arguing in favor of alternative policies (Merriam-Webster, 2022). When David Cameron became prime minister in 2010, he appointed May to the position of Home Secretary, where, for the next six years, she would be tasked with finding solutions to challenging domestic problems (May, 2022).
As is often the case in UK politics, the actions of the previous leader (Cameron), had an impact on how May gained premiership. Although Cameron enthusiastically supported Britain remaining in the EU, on June 23, 2016, he lived up to his campaign promise by holding a Brexit referendum (Mackrell, 2019). When the majority of British voters (mostly from England) supported leaving the EU, a stunned Cameron resigned stating, “I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the EU…But the British people made a different decision… As such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.” (Stewart et al., 2016). Initially, three Conservative members of parliament sought to fill Cameron’s vacancy: Brexit agnostic (although she did vote to remain), Theresa May, and Brexit supporters, Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020, pp. 297, 298). Unfortunately, for Johnson, his campaign manager, Michael Gove, stabbed him in the back by putting his own name in for the leadership position, which led to both Johnson ending his bid, as well as a humiliating defeat in the second round of voting for Gove (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020, pp. 297, 298).
With only May and Leadsom left in the running, May’s goal, as an EU remainer, was to win the support of Brexiteers, while Leadsom, with the enigmatic Johnson as her cheerleader, had to avoid making any mistakes. However, in a political gaffe that would come to be known as “Mothergate”, Leadsom suggested that she would make a better prime minister because she has children and May does not. (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020 p. 297). Once Leadsom realized her blunder was fatal to her bid, she dropped out of the race, leaving May as the de facto PM (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020, p. 297). Thus, it can be argued that May herself had very little to do with her “winning” the position. Upon taking office, May put aside her remainer past and stood by the democratic decision of the people, by evoking the mantra “Brexit means Brexit”. Additionally, realizing that the charismatic Johnson was a threat to her leadership, May appointed him Foreign Secretary, ensuring that he would be kept far from Downing Street (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020 p. 300).
With all other candidates withdrawing their names prior to the third round of voting, parliament had no choice but to appoint May PM. Eventually, when May held a general election on June 8, 2017, the Conservatives failed to take a majority of seats and she barely kept her leadership position (Atkins & Gaffney, 2020 p. 305). Being unable to form a coalition government, May had to settle for a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party, where the DUP would agree to back the Conservatives on budget and confidence votes, but they were not bound to anything more (Travis, 2017). In retrospect, there is no doubt that May’s time as PM was mired in the bog of Brexit, which put all of her other goals and initiatives on the back burner. However, her inability to negotiate, bargain and form coalitions was her true downfall, as she was never able to build enough of a consensus with which to deliver a Brexit deal. Thus, for better or worse, May’s greatest influence on British politics is how she set the stage for Boris Johnson’s “bumbling, blonde” persona to take up the fumbled Brexit negotiations, ultimately delivering the long-awaited deal to the UK people (McTague, 2019).
Atkins J, Gaffney J. Narrative, persona and performance: The case of Theresa May 2016–2017. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 2020;22(2):293-308. doi:10.1177/1369148120910985
Gallagher, Michael, Michael Laver, and Peter Mair. 2011. Representative Government in
Modern Europe (5th Edition). New York: McGraw Hill.
Mackrell, D. (2019, January 16). Why did David Cameron hold an EU Referendum and what is he doing now? Metro. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/16/david-cameron-hold-eu-referendum-now-8350174/
May T. (2022). About. Theresa May. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.tmay.co.uk/about
McTague, T. (2019, November 14). Jeremy Corbyn Is Like Donald Trump, Not Boris Johnson. The Atlantic. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/11/jeremy-corbyn-like-donald-trump-not-boris-johnson/601957/
Merriam-Webster. (2022). Shadow Cabinet. The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shadow%20cabinet
Stewart, H., Mason, R., & Syal, R. (2016, June 24). David Cameron resigns after UK votes to leave European Union. The Guardian. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/david-cameron-resigns-after-uk-votes-to-leave-european-union
Travis, A. (2017, November 27). “Confidence and supply”: what does it mean and how will it work for the new government? The Guardian. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/11/confidence-and-supply-what-does-it-mean-and-how-will-it-work-for-the-new-government
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