Comment: Labour needs to reform the way it is funded

It felt like we were fighting the election campaign with longbows while the Tories had sten guns


Sometimes in the Labour Party it can feel like it’s all about the money. It’s the request of most emails you get from Labour and the source of many headaches for constituency Labour parties (CLPs).

Candidates in many of the seats we lost – and several of those we managed to win – talk of the difference between our RISO-produced newsletters that volunteers struggled to deliver, and the relentless paid-for calls and direct mails on glossy paper of our opponents.

Whilst we had the highest contact rates for a generation, as one MP told me, it was as though we had longbows and the government had sten guns.

How we pay our way is never an easy subject to talk about, but we have to if we are serious about equipping activists, candidates and those already elected with the tools they need to win in 2020.

For too long, fundraising activities at a local level have had little connection to the gala dinners and high value work done by the national party, leaving little incentive for local parties to act.

In some key seats, members devoted long hours to setting up events and donation schemes for limited returns. Others had access to donations and donors through networks of which some could only dream.

National fundraising efforts often cross over with those of local and regional parties, with new and old members repeatedly complaining about being asked for varying sums by competing audiences.

What’s more, those who give money to Labour can often feel as though we only value their bank balance – not the relationship they wanted to have with campaigning for social justice which made them donate in the first place.

And whilst, thanks to the work of our talented staff and generous members, we have been successful at small value donation strategies as never before, raising £3.7 million in one year, it is worth remembering that the Tories raised £40 million from intimate policy dinners alone.

Reconnecting fundraising with our campaigns could unlock both grassroots giving and activism. The party has already experimented with match funding arrangements; rewarding key seats that met certain activity criteria with additional resources.

But offering contacts or standard printing in response to activity isn’t the only way to motivate members. Matching funds raised by CLPs if they pledge to hit a certain target with more freedom as to what the funds can be spent on would help make that effort more worthwhile for all concerned.

CLPs and speakers that help others – especially target seats – could benefit from national assistance to run tailored events including small dinners, online actions and large rallies on issues of concern with a wider circulation and help with guest speakers.

Such a national match funding scheme would also encourage CLPs to collaborate in organising these events – and compete to secure this support in a way that could be captured in a leaderboard, with the most active CLPs who do the most for others being rewarded accordingly.

We also need to unlock the potential for CLPs and individual activists to fundraise online, with simple tools that can be properly tailored to local events, products and actions. Members will know how easy a Justgiving or Kickstarter site is to use – it’s time we had the facility to do this for our Labour campaigns too.

Furthermore, given many members and CLPs have great fundraising ideas or products, it’s time for a formal Labour Party marketplace ‘etsy’ style site to help encourage such creativity in the name of socialism, as well as Facebook fundraising assistance for CLPs.

None of these ways of working will replace our relationship with other wings of Labour, including the trade unions who have proudly supported us – and nor should they. But this is about fresh thinking that helps revitalise such links from the grassroots up.

This year the Electoral Reform Society released a new report saying 61 per cent of the public believe the current political funding system is corrupt and in urgent need of reform. Given this, some may say we should focus on renewing our party first and leave the knotted questions of fundraising for later. Others will say we should focus on winning the case for state funding, however unlikely this may seem at present.

But getting it right and being willing to be innovative now is not just about avoiding the reputational risk of getting it wrong. Without cash we cannot pay for staff, print leaflets or even fund the websites that will help us win elections as well as rebuild our party.

It’s time we put our money where our mouth is, stopped seeing members as cash machines, and became a fundraising political movement.

Stella Creasy is the Labour and Co-op MP for Walthamstow and is standing for the deputy leadership of the party. Follow her on Twitter 

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114 Responses to “Comment: Labour needs to reform the way it is funded”

  1. des Muller

    Many good points on here- so well done Stella for tapping into many supporters post election frustrations. You may get my vote.
    Some questions first.
    1) Those who say money does not influence elections- why do the Tories waste so much money then? Just feckless I guess.
    Of course money spent on election campaigns has a huge influence on outcomes in our flawed democratic process-just look at the US.
    2) Press doesn’t impact outcomes?- Those who say the press does not influence elections need to look at Blair’s courtship of The Murdoch press (at a time when others were seeking to check his influence) in order to achieve power. The election disasters of Foot and Kinnock were memorable for the deeply (bacon sandwich style) personal attacks on the Leader-(“it was the Sun wot won it!”).
    Blair did achieve and retain power, and some of the things his supporters on here claim were also achieved. But at what cost? A close friendship with Murdoch et al, a close relationship with Bush(invasion and all). And an admirer of Thatcher! Bush, Thatcher and Murdoch – Is that what we really need to repeat? Blair gave us the expansion of PFI , the market economy in NHSS and Social Services, and the expansion of Independent education sector (formerly,and more correctly, known as Private education). Values became far too blurred. Blair got re-elected because the rich and powerful prospered under him, while the gap between rich and poor further increased with a trickle down in neo liberal style. “What’s not to like about Blair if you are rich and powerful?” But – “hang on! -this Iraq thing has gone pair shaped, and we now have Brown, and some of us have caused a global crash -whoops! – So ditch labour, blame them for everything until we have created ‘a new truth’, and help portray the coalition as ‘our saviours’ at every opportunity. If Labour tries to refutes this- proclaim they are ‘in denial’ and have ‘not learnt their lessons’ “!
    The Sun switches back to Tory- bacon sandwiches are soon on the menu. The SNP are on a bacon roll in Scotland (supported by the Sun who advocate voting Tory in England).
    The SNP can not lose by being anti austerity, having shifted significantly to the left at just the right time to ‘out-Labour’ Labour, who are now far too scared to be too anti austerity and therefore in league with the Scots. So SNP wipes out Labour in it’s old heartland while moving a big step closer to independence with a reactionary tory government in power that they can exploit to that aim!
    Poor old Ed. A good man, a sincere man, but not good enough to withstand the above. And soon blamed by all those in the party who would have done better.
    Where do we find this marvellous leader who can deal with all of the above? The Tories train people for office via Eton debating society’s from an early age. They expect power and speak with that authority. They can even package an unpleasant self seeker such as Boris as a loveable, eccentric toff. The union movement has been in decline so long that Labour does not have the equivalent chain of political experience. Those within it are easily characterised as “reds” even before they explain there point of view.
    We need someone like Alan Johnson but perhaps,with a bit more authority. Our other candidates appear to be a bit insipid and lacking in public identification. Of the leaders put forward, only Jeremy Corbyn seems to offer something different. The more you hear, the more you like him. I will vote for him even though he will be the most difficult to elect. Yvette Cooper would be my next underwhelming choice and Andy Burnham (now moving right) not that far behind. Liz Kendall would make me consider leaving Labour. Furthermore, I do not want to hear any Labour Leader parroting phrases like “politics of envy!” They should concern themselves more with the evils of “politics of greed” and “politics of selfishness”.
    Even so, could labour have done better without becoming Blair mark 2?
    Yes, I believe so, but there is no easy route back to power because, just like the obesity crisis, we have been fed a certain diet for too long. It is no good going back to the rhetoric of the hard left because it has had it’s time and is easily characterised. The Blair way was meant to be a middle way but he smiled too much at crocodiles and we got eaten. So what do we do? I like some of the constructive suggestions from others on this thread. Old values of Social Justice, and a fairer society must be at the core. Above all, we need a meritocracy. Education, as stated by others here, is the key. We need to think about how we can remove the splits in our education system. I would advocate incremental taxation of private education- not for those already in the system- but for those about to be, with all funds, plus top up, to improve local alternatives.
    Will we get re-elected? No ,not until something like a disaster discredits this lot-same as they would not have got back but for a global crisis. So let’s not worry about that now but let’s have some worthwhile basic decent and humane values that we can advocate and defend to ourselves and others hand on heart.

  2. James Hayes

    Define a Labour supporter Ian? I am struggling with that concept at the moment. What really make a Labour voter? I have always voted Labour, but within my local Party because I do not support Jeremy Corbyn for Leader I am called Tory Lite!

  3. Ian

    Would you vote for any of the other contenders? If so, who and why? All I’ve heard from them so far is pseudoTory piffle. Anything Blairite/New Labour/Blue Labour isn’t really Labour at all. That seems to cover most of the current PLP.

    People who believe in what Labour used to stand for should have abandoned the party years ago and thankfully many did.The Blair/Mandelson neoliberal coup made the party a disgrace to the name. Any party that has or had James Purnell, Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna et al in it has to be avoided.

  4. James Hayes

    Ian I am really a very simple personoliberal is? The people you name clearly do not think of themselves as Tory’s or they would have joined the Conservative Party. You are defining them as such if I understand you correctly? So anyone who supports their viewpoints even on some matters has no place in the Labour Party? I believe in wealth creation, but I also believe that there are people in society who genuinely need the support of the state. Does my belief in wealth creation make me a Tory in you eyes? If so then there are millions of voters like me who need to maybe form a new political party as we are not Old Labour, but neither are we Tory’s. Am I right wing Labour, or left wing Tory is a battle I am genuinely having in my mind. I believe it is is how I would use wealth that defines me more as a Labour supporter, but if you are telling me that wealth creation of itself is bad then ultimately one of us is in the wrong party. The Labour Party used to be a Broad Church. We are sadly in my view now returning to the old fault lines of left and right within the Party and I fear that whoever wins that particular battle we will be the poorer for it as it will lead to a fractured Party and they do not normally win elections. Clearly we were not left wing enough for a lot of voters, but surely the answer is somewhere in the middle. Again sadly I think it is a case of Idealism v Winning Elections. Michael Foot list that battle, Tony Blair did not. Was a Blair led Government really as bad in your eyes as a Cameron led one? Bear with me on this debate because as I said you are a lot more intellectual than I am.

  5. Leon Moody

    Tax evasion is one of the things Tories thrive on.Thats why nothing is done about it.Tories are in it for thereselves,not thecommon population.Eton!! classed as a charity!!!.The road where Cameron lives used by about 40 cars a day,resurfaced end to end.While local roads very pot holed wait up to 10–15yrs.Come on labour ask your members for ideas,they will have lots.Top one will be get rid of the i call them.

  6. GC Boyadjian

    Suggest you review the need to have lobbying organisations and stop copying the States for Social and Employment Policies. We have enough intellectual ability in this country to come up with our own ideas for solving our own problems. Develop an economic model which can generate real wealth through increases in productivity and one that spreads that very same wealth more equally amongst the population. Reinvest in the NHS and Social Services by raising taxes in an accountable and transparent way so that people can see how much of their tax on average is being spent on these two critical services. Quantify this into a budgeted and promotable ‘per capita monthly figure’ and set your goals accordingly.
    What is the difference between paying for private medical insurance or paying more tax solely directed towards the NHS?

  7. JP G

    I think a fundamental problem with this topic is perception is harder to shake than facts. SOME of Labours policies for the GE were ilthought through. The Mansion Tax was popular, as was the stance against exploitative Zero hours contracts. However very little in policy spoke to the hard working man, who despite economic turmoil has kept his job and wants to know what Labour will do for him, instead of the unfortunate people who are struggling to find work. Sadly Ed’s perception was one akin to Boris Johnson’s here in the North West – a bumbling bafoon.

    (For the record I’m not saying Ed is/was either of those things.)

    There is a perception out there that Labour is no longer in touch with the working people. They have speant so much time in Westminster and Whitehall; they’ve forgotten who they represent.

    Giving ‘political answers’ on issues and blasting people with jargon doesn’t help either. Let the Tories assert their ‘superior status’ by evading questions with statistics and figures. As Labour, we should speak to the general population as though we would speak in the local pub with them; frank, honest and accessible. Let the people find their voice through Labour again.

  8. Jill Price

    Do not want American style politics or policies. Ed Miliband lost because he was crucified by a right wing press. He was a brave man to face it all . The sad thing is, even members of his own party join in to belittle him which shows the power of the written word even if it is prejudiced say it long enough and people will believe it . J

  9. Eileen Grace Peakman

    The problem with Labour policies is that they are not based on modern reality. other countries have moved on with their politics and policies.
    I have lived in other countries and experienced much fairer taxation. For instance this is the only developed country that I know of the at has such and antiquated council tax system. other developed countries base their local taxes on actual property values not this banding system that gives the higher value properties a bargain basement tax.
    If properties were more fairly taxed the poor would not be paying the exorbitant council taxes as they stand, and do not forget the grants that the better off are able to get because they can afford the matching amounts for various grants, the statistics show that far more government money goes to the affluent than is paid out in benefits to the poorer are deducted (more than 50% of the benefit cost as now calculated). The Canadian pension plan now invests so that it actually has a surplus.
    Labour really needs to study how better to set taxes and policies it can be done without setting up combatitive attitudes.

  10. Dive

    Completely agree.

  11. alan thomas

    we have to have a message the tories had a message Labour left the country broke and keep saying it for 5 years and only once did I hear a labour mp challenge the claim. we have to get a message to the people we want to vote for Labour it is a big job. I do wonder if we have any affect on the running of the country. In 1997 I thought we would do something but as a working man I did not see any benefit. We are told we are anti business what we do is keep poor employers rich by toping up wages,

  12. Christopher Hughes

    “Whingeing” has just been added to the “Little book of Tory verbs” but try the OED, Geraint where, under “Charisma”, there’s no mention of a Cameron or an Osborne. Charismatic leaders result in near-sighted followers anyway. So I don’t want a pedagogue or a puppet, I want someone to get this country out of the “mess” (good word that) the Tories are creating. I have someone in mind.

  13. Christopher Hughes

    I think I agree with that, Geraint.

  14. Christopher Hughes

    That’s my problem with charisma, Kris. Charismatic leaders work on “the masses”. They may even call them “punters” in private. Leaders with vision, seeing through others’ eyes, are able to see or imagine the individual and their needs. It’s difficult and it needs to be. I’m fed up with simple solutions.

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