Tag Archives: party finance

Lord William Wallace writes….Money, money, money

Liberal Democrats achieve remarkable successes on the foundation of determined campaigning, enthusiasm, and passionate promotion of liberal values.  But money also matters.  And shortage of money, compared to Labour and (above all) the Conservatives, is one of the major obstacles to a political breakthrough.

Last year our federal party raised £6.2m, and spent £6.5m.  That meant some painful cuts in staffing, as well as missed opportunities in media projection, campaigning, and organisation.  Those who complain in commenting on Lib Dem Voice postings that our media team are failing to make the most of our rise in the polls do not know how small our media team is at present, and how wonderfully effective they are for their size.  We could do with a larger leader’s office, a larger policy development team, and a much larger team of regional and field organisers to help and support local activists in their campaigns.  But all that requires money.

Press reports on problems within the Labour Party’s headquarters have noted that Labour has over 400 HQ staff.  Lib Dems currently have 60, working flat out to support the party throughout the country, to service our members, and not least to make sure that we fulfil all our legal obligations as a regulated political organisation.  

Labour had significantly expanded its paid staff between 2016 and 2018, and also doubled the size of its leader’s office – partly on the back of the impressive surge in party membership, which (as reported to the Electoral Commission ) brought in £26m in fees in 2017.  This was still, however, less than a third of its total income.  Fundraising and donations, most importantly from trade unions, brought in £25m, public support for its role as a major opposition party (‘Short’ and ‘Cranborne’ money) brought in £8.5m, and conferences and other events contributed most of the rest.  The slump in Labour’s membership in 2018-19, together with a decline in donations, has now left the party with a widening gap between increased spending and declining income.

The Conservatives are more like a centralised campaigning organisation than a membership-based party.  They declared an income from membership subscriptions in 2017 of only £835,000: that’s a little more than £6 per member on their estimated membership.  They received more in legacies than that.  But the bulk of their income comes from major donors: a total of £30m in donations in 2017, much of it in five- or six-figure sums from a few hundred individuals.  J. C. Bamford, the excavator company chaired by Lord Bamford, is one of its largest donors, giving £1.5m in the three months before the 2017 election.  Labour analysis shows that a high proportion of major Conservative donors are hedge fund managers; others include wealthy Russians, and Middle Eastern millionaires, with homes in London.  EC figures show that the Conservatives received £7.5m between October and December 2018 from 230 donors: more than our entire income last year.

The Brexit Party is a limited company controlled by Nigel Farage.  It reports £2.75m in online donations (each below £500, thus not reportable to the EC) through PayPal in the first half of 2019, as well as several larger donations – including £200,000 from Jeremy Hosking, a City financier who finances a number of right-wing causes.  The Financial Times on July 26th reported that Farage  has just launched ‘World4Brexit’ at an event in New York, attended by leading figures on the hard right of US politics (Peter Thiel, the CEO of PayPal, is a supporter).  Farage is already attacking the Electoral Commission for querying his fund-raising methods, claiming ‘an Establishment stitch-up.’

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