Labour doesn’t have a funding crisis…yet. But the task of avoiding one as a result of the (Ray) Collins review into party funding just got harder.
Yesterday’s news about the loss of GMB money is a blow no matter how you slice it. Common consensus has it that Labour must learn to do more with less. Which is true – as far as it goes.
As Labour changes its relations with our affiliates at the top so we have pledged to strengthen our relationships at a grassroots level. I have some sympathy with Anthony Painter’s view that we have not yet fully commited to this path.
The reaction from Labour to the reduction in the level of funding from GMB has been to say that the majority of Labour’s funds come from membership and small donations and this is true. But it is not the whole story.
The thing that the unions have – when giving large sums of money – is a sense of oversight. Not an excess of policy influence (as the Tories like to claim) but of a certain amount of understanding of where the money would go and what it would be spent on. If we are to increase the sense of ownership that all members and small donors have for the Party, we need to increase their sense that they are paying towards the things that members think are important for making Labour an electable force in the country.
For me, and for the many members I have spoken to today, this means organising.
I don’t want to pay £X for £X leaflets or billboards. I want to know that the money I am giving regularly goes to the best possble way of electing the next Labour government.
I am glad to pay my membership towards making the Party work. I am currently also happy to pay £10 a month to general costs. But I would be happy to pledge to double that – nay tripple it – if I could ensure that money was going to pay for local organisers on the ground.
As it stands, I donate to the national party – with no control over what is done with that donation – and to my local party. My local Party are lovely. But we are a safe seat and I would like to find a way to spread the money while retaining a sense of ownderhip in how it is spent.
Just as many campaigning organisations have always done, Labour should make giving more enticing by allowing donors to know exactly what it is they are funding. If a donor doesn’t want to specify there should be a general fund (and membership fees should not be ringfenced in this way to allow for the discretion of good Labour Pary management such as we are seeing under Iain McNicol), But there should also be a seperate fund – allowed to fundraise seperately – for organising. For members to recognise the value of spreading their donations further down the line to where it can and will do the most good.
Ed Miliband is right to talk of mending – not ending – our relationship with the unions. In order to show real faith in doing so, what better than learning from the best examples the unions set us? Unions are at their very best when they are engaged in organising at a community level. Labour is too. Let’s formalise that lesson by allowing members and supporters to specifically support that work through a dedicated organising fund.
The new politics the Coalition offered us was a lie. You just have to look at the dreadful lobbying bill to see that. But there could be a new way of doing Labour poltics that reflected that hunger that we saw in the country. This isn’t a whole solution. There is so much more to do. But it could be a great start.