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The Russia Situation Highlights the Money Problem at the Heart of UK Politics

25/07/2014 16:10 BST | Updated 24/09/2014 10:59 BST

Who would want to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. I don't think I would like to do that. What if they were better at tennis than I was? That's the sort of embarrassment that would be difficult to live down. Last time I played tennis, the ball hit me in the face. If Boris Johnson hit a tennis ball into my face, I think I'd have to move to Alaska, or something. Somewhere that my friends and family couldn't visit easily, otherwise they'd just be dropping in every fifteen minutes to have a good laugh at me. To be honest, it's just as well that I don't want to play tennis with the prime minister and the Mayor of London, because the going rate for a game is apparently £160,000. Don't get me wrong - I work hard. But I don't have £160,000. You know how it is. Student loan repayments, et cetera.

A Russian woman, Lubov Chernukhin, did have £160,000 to pay for a tennis game with Tories, and duly did so earlier this month. That didn't go down well with some people at the time, thanks to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The issue resurfaced this week following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the Ukrainian warzone. The husband of Mrs. Chernukhin, Vladimir, is a former member of Putin's government, which put Cameron in a sticky situation. Taking money from the Chernukhins makes him look silly, because he's also keen to be seen to be pushing for further sanctions against the Putin regime.

The charge of hypocrisy, in this case, isn't an especially valid one. Mr. Chernukhin left Putin's cabinet in 2004, and both Chernukhins are now British citizens. However, Cameron's Conservatives have a track record of interesting links with Russians. Over £1 million has been pledged to the Tories by Russians since 2010. No-one is saying that you shouldn't do business with a Russian. However, it doesn't look good if you appear to be in the pocket of Russian donors at a time when the Russian government is behaving in such a disgraceful manner.

In all honesty, though, having wealthy Russians dousing the Tories in money isn't my real issue with this whole story. Neither is it the continuing debasement by Conservatives of the sport of tennis (I like tennis). The real problem is the seedy, sickening role that finance continues to play in British politics. Stop for a second and consider the cringeworthy nonsense of all this. A tennis game with an incumbent prime minister and the mayor of a major world city? How is it that we live in a world where these things can be offered and purchased? What about the Ukrainian who paid £90,000 for - you'll like this one - a bronze bust of the prime minister? Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your life? Our political parties need money. They have a lot of debt between them. Yet this is not exactly the best way to go about clearing those bills.

The impression that politicians can be bought is not a new one. Anyone who remembers 'cash for questions' knows that. It's also a poisonous impression. We must eradicate it from our politics. The idea of money buying influence has wormed its way to the very top of our political system. There's no doubt that worries over money have the capability to constrict our politicians. When the prime minister is discussing sanctions against the Russians, will he be thinking about the legality or effectiveness of such measures? Will he be thinking about how best to target the Putin regime? Will he consider the possible economic impact of sanctions for the City of London? Or will the finances of the Conservative party, and their wealthy Russian donors, be at the front of his mind?

You may think that Cameron will do the right thing on sanctions, regardless of his party donors. I'd like to think so too, and the general consensus abroad is that the UK is leading the European charge on sanctions. The fact remains, though, that we shouldn't even have to consider the alternative. Our political system shouldn't be open to such compromising situations. The officials we elect shouldn't have to solicit donations or appeal for cash.

It's time to establish a limit on political donations. It's time to eliminate the threat of corruption and remove the possibility of big-money donors ruling the roost over elected politicians. We don't want to go down the American route, where all politics is awash with corporate money to an obscene extent. A taxpayer-funded political system, however unpalatable, appears to be the only solution. Perhaps parties could receive grants from the taxpayer in proportion to what they can secure from ordinary members. Whatever system is conceived, it has to be better than what we have now. Working men and women may not like the idea of paying for politics out of their taxes. The alternative - a political system dominated by some of the richest and most powerful people in the world - has done us no favours at all for far too long now.