Money matters to our party

It is impossible to run a political party or an election campaign without the necessary financial resources. Political parties have three major sources of income: member subscriptions, trade union contributions and donor support.

The alternative to such sources of revenue is for the state to provide tax payer support, or for campaigning spend to be very strictly curtailed, or a combination of both.   The first of these alternatives, particularly if substantial sums were involved, would certainly not be popular with the wider public.   The second would require a major reform of political expenditure, and currently does not have the support of Labour or the Conservatives.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of donor fundraising for a variety of reasons, including fears of undue donor influence by high net-worth donors, but we Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on the powerful protocols we have in place to protect the Party from any such risks.

It is imperative we encourage and value our individual donors for their support, both historically and going forward. The Party has a range of structures to enable that engagement, supported by a dedicated team in Party HQ.  The Fundraising Board, chaired by the current Party Treasurer and my successor, Tilly McAuliffe (in photo), drives this part of work, but we are supported by a range of networks to develop our relationships further including the Liberty Network, the Business & Entrepreneurs Network and the Legacy Society.

One of the most important and strategic examples of donor engagement in recent times was Andrew Dixon’s two-step initiative in the summer of 2019. With a General Election on the horizon, Andrew firstly undertook an extensive business outreach exercise – Project Phoenix – building key relationships around Party objectives, primarily our stance on Brexit, our deep engagement with business and our pursuit of a strong economy in which business can flourish.

This led to the formation of the successful Liberal Business Alliance in Q3 of 2019. Working in conjunction with the Fundraising Team in HQ, and the donors who had joined the Alliance, Andrew was able to secure substantial financial support for the Party.  The Alliance attracted 16 donors including Justin & Victoria Ash, Dinesh Dhamija, Stephen Gosling, Ewan Kirk, Mark Petterson, David & Heather Stevens and raised more than £4.5m for the election campaign in December of that year.

This programme came at a personal reputational cost to Andrew and the other donors as the election results, like those in 2015 and 2017, were not as expected.  However, their efforts and generous support meant that the Party emerged from the General Election campaign with sufficient resource to maintain a fully active Party machine, without the necessity for borrowing and putting the Party into debt once again. For this in particular, we should all be very grateful.

Our engagement with the business community has been much strengthened by the growth of the Liberal Democrat Business and Entrepreneurs Network.  LDBEN has provided a powerful engagement vehicle for the business community, and under the stewardship of some of our major donors has grown strongly.   Its new Chair, Simon Curtis, is keen to develop branches around the country. Meanwhile, Juergen Maier’s Business & Economy Council (LDBEC) provides the Party with important business-related policy input and guidance.

Liberal Democrats need to hold our major Party donors close if we wish to maintain our campaigning ability. Too often donor engagement has been kept at arms-length.

We all understand that only through the Party machinery can real influence of the Party’s direction take place. However, given the personal sacrifices that our donors have made, they rightly deserve the recognition by the Party for the important role they play and the impact they have had.

Remember that our donors empathise with our values and are passionate about the important role the Liberal Democrats need to play in British politics, otherwise they would put their money elsewhere.

Andrew’s successful donor engagement programme in 2019 demonstrated the effectiveness of peer-to-peer recommendation in generating transformative donations.

Many Liberal Democrat sympathisers, with financial capacity to support the party, are unaware of the enormous impact a donation to the Liberal Democrats makes.  I would ask you to consider who in your network might be in a position to support the party financially and to contact our new Treasurer, Tilly McAuliffe, at [email protected] for a confidential discussion with our dedicated team about a well-judged route to engaging with someone you think could become a major donor to the party.

If we all play our part the impact will transform our capacity to succeed in the next election.

* Mike German is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords. He was Party Treasurer from 2015-2021.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Tony Harris 25th Jun '21 - 8:27am

    Completely agree Mike (and Tilly). Also, the Federal Party financial controls are now in the best state they have ever been which means we look after donor money and manage it carefully so as to make sure it goes exactly where it is needed within the Party.

  • Mary Stanier 23rd Oct '22 - 6:25pm

    There must be a way to introduce rules that would ensure the sort of behaviour engaged in by Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Kwazi Kwarteng to name but three MPs would prompt their removal not only from government but also from parliament.

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