Gordon Barton gave us a taste in Australia of rich men flirting with third party politics back in the 1960s with his Liberal Reform Group and opposition to the support of conservative Liberal and National (then Country) parties for the Vietnam war. It transmuted into the Australian Reform Movement and then the Australia Party before he lost interest – or maybe it was his money – although his plaything was kind of resurrected in the the form of the Democrats. And they did use the Senate to have a considerable say in national politics before their disintegration as a party without money and thus influence.
Bob Brown. that deservedly revered founder of the national Greens, understood the importance of men with money too. It was the millions poured into campaigning by the founder of the Wotif online travel website, Graeme Wood, before the federal election of 2010 that saw the Greens emerge as such a dominant force that Labor was forced into a formal governing agreement with them. The absence of an equivalent to that largest donation in Australian political history perhaps explains much of the declining Green vote of 2013 when Queensland’s Clive Palmer was the third party man with the millions of dollars. It was the Palmer United Party that bought enough votes this time to upset the established two-party duopoly.
In Australia the success of rich men sponsoring a third force in politics has owed much to the multi-member nature of our Senate elections although now both the PUP and the Greens have a bum on the green House of Representative benches. Perhaps there are more such third forces to come. The current experience in Great Britain certainly points in that direction with UKIP – the UK Independence Party – coming from nowhere to challenge Conservatives and Labour in the opinion polls with the traditional third party Liberal Democrats languishing well behind in fourth place.
And money is surely playing a part in the UKIP ascendancy. The Financial Times reports this morning that a “reclusive multimillionaire behind the anti-Brussels UK Independence party has vowed there will be “no limit” to his spending in the run-up to next year’s general election.
Paul Sykes, a self-made businessman worth an estimated £400m, said he wanted to counter the tens of millions spent every year by Brussels on promoting the EU. “The British people need the facts,” he said. …
Having quit the Conservatives in the 1990s over Europe, Mr Sykes said he had so far spent about “£1.2m or £1.4m” on a media blitz that includes hundreds of controversial posters attacking the EU. “We haven’t stopped spending yet,” he told the Financial Times. “I’ll spend whatever it takes for the British people to make them aware that power has been transferred from Britain without permission.”
And here’s where the money is going:
It seems like a very powerful message to me – powerful enough to give a different twist to the Westminster two-party system.
Money might not buy you love but it seems to do alright with votes.