So, the Conservatives have raised more money in the last quarter of 2009 than both Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined. Some obvious problems this could cause relate not just to the upcoming general election also to the possibility – if neither party gets a sustainable majority – that an election that quickly follows will put Labour at a huge disadvantage. Also, it hampers Labour’s ability to fight on an even-footing in the key marginals which, if Angus Reid’s polling is to be believed, are currently showing a bigger swing away from Labour. So this is not an issue we can afford to ignore. Meanwhile, the Conservatives, not content with having the advantage, want to cement it by cutting off union funding to Labour, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph:
“Under the Tory plans, union members would have to choose to contribute to the political fund every time they pay their annual subscription.”
The argument that there is something inherently democratically wrong with the political levy is a class war idea if ever there was one. It wrongly assumes that the unions can compete on a level playing field with companies and wealthy individuals – and it ignores the fact that trade unionists can opt-out.
Looking at the recent figures from the Electoral Commission, it’s not hard to see the how wrong this assumption is: companies contributed slightly over £2 million to the Conservative warchest in the last quarter, compared to just over £200,000 to Labour’s. This, of course, is not to mention the Ashcroft millions which form a part of the £7 million that the Conservatives received from individual donors.
Trade Union money accounts for 11% of funding to all parties compared to 17% for companies and 64% from individual donations. Making the unions jump through more hoops would diminish already marginal influence and give the edge to corporate and wealthy individual donors who largely favour the Conservatives. Politically, in a rather sneaky, underhand way, David Cameron wants to terminate the Labour Party not by democratically winning the political debate, but by depriving it of finance.
Fundraising should be seen less as a fiscal – and more as a political – question; as a way to encourage greater involvement at every level. Thus, it should be most targeted and intensive in marginal seats.
David Blunkett is currently spearheading a campaign to raise more money through small donations, a la Obama, above. However I think this requires more than ‘letting people know’ what is done with their money; after all we, do not want people to view the Labour Party as being like the stray animal that they sponsored out of the kindness of their hearts. We want them to feel a sense of ownership and involvement with its future and its current campaign; so, they should be encouraged to give and maybe asked if they will display a poster or deliver a leaflet they paid for. That way, our supporters can own the difference they make.