The row over what to do with its Short money was the tinderbox for Ukip’s internal tensions. Although the war between Team Farage and Team O’Flynn has been bubbling away for months, the question of what to do with the £650,000 of public funds, combined with Nigel Farage’s un-resignation, kicked off a briefing war that brought these fights into the public domain.
But we may have détente between Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage on state funding. On last night's Question Time, the Ukip leader — who put in a solid, if not particularly inspiring performance — took the radical step of promising not to take any public funds, which includes the Short money:
‘I’m going to recommend that we don’t accept any of it. Given we’ve had an argument over this, I don’t want Ukip to look like other parties, grubbing around after public money’
Carswell has been consistent in calling for a reduction in the state funding of political parties and believes Short money should be lowered — hence his preference for taking a reduced figure of £350,000 at a meeting with Ukip HQ staffers last week. In his book The Plan, co-written with Daniel Hannan, Carswell called in 2009 for the phasing out of state funding of parties to help rebuild trust in politics:
‘If political parties need money, they should have to ask for it politely, not compel it by force of law. A ban on the state funding of political activity would mean the phasing out of ‘Short money’ (the resources given to all opposition parties in the Commons) and of the generous Communications Allowance, which allows MPs to promote themselves in their constituencies at public expense. It would also mean the end of hidden donations, including election broadcasts and the free postage of election addresses. At the same time, donations over £1,000 should be made public.
‘We have already seen how the internet has transformed political donations in the US, shifting the balance from a small number of massive contributors to millions of online donors typically giving less than $100 each. There is no reason that the same thing should not happen in Britain. But, if it didn’t, parties would simply have to get by with less. ‘
I understand that some of Ukip’s most senior donors back Farage's plan and are ready to fill up the party’s coffers with equivalent sums, so Ukip is unlikely to suffer financially from this decision. But replacing state funding with big donors probably isn’t what Carswell had in mind for restoring trust in politics. Although this could calm the tensions between Team Farage and others in the party, those who think Carswell should replace Farage as party leader still have plenty of reasons to back their man.