Cash for Constituencies

Iain Dale has a bit of a sob story for us today:

The power of incumbency for MPs is huge – and growing. So it is a little galling to hear Labour MPs bleating on about Michael Ashcroft’s funding a the Conservatives’ mtarget seat campaign. Rob Halfon, Tory candidate for Harlow, tackles this in a letter to The Guardian today…

Complaints about Michael Ashcroft funding marginal seats is really just a
Labour red herring (Tories surge past Labour after election dithering, October 2). As a prospective parliamentary candidate fighting to overturn a Labour majority of just 97, I am faced with a huge inbuilt disadvantage. Not only does the MP have £18,000 of taxpayer funds annually to “communicate” with the electorate (not forgetting the £10,000 bonus recently added), he or she also has £7,000 postal expenses and a fully staffed office also paid for by the taxpayer.

My MP regularly writes letters to members of the public. So, with a £28,000 annual communications allowance, a huge postage allowance and trade union funds, Labour MPs have an automatic head start over any challenger. Support from Ashcroft and others to Conservative parliamentary candidates merely levels the playing field.

Robert Halfon, Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate, Harlow


As Halfon (and Iain) should know full well, the money that incumbent MPs receive in Parliamentary allowances are subject to strict usage rules and are not permitted to be used for campaigning or other party political activities. Halfon’s use of quotation marks around the word ‘communicate’, in particular, is disingenuous and misleading, amounting to a deliberate effort to imply that there is measure of impropriety in these arrangements, which apply to incumbent MPs of ALL parties, not just Labour.

So far as the truth goes when it comes to the Ashcroft (and other) money is concerned, the figures – obtained from the Electoral Commission – point to a very different picture.

For starters, the data I’ve used covers all cash donations directly to Labour CLPs and Conservative Associations over the last two years (Q2 2005 to Q2 2007) – I’ve deliberately excluded non-cash donations and returned/ineligible donations.

And so far as the headline figure are concerned it would look, at first sight, as if the Tories do have an edge. Cash donations over the last two years to Conservative Associations amount to a total of just under £3.8 million with Labour CLPs coming in at just shy of £2.4 million, around £1.4 million down on the Tories.

The devil is, however, in the detail.

Iain makes the point that:

What he [Rob] doesn’t mention is the money which trade unions funnel into constituency Labour parties, which also tilt[s] the balance.

So let’s look at who the big corporate/union donors are and how much are they actually ‘funnelling’ into local campaigns.

For the Tories, top place – and billing – goes to Bearwood Corporate Services Ltd, which is Ashcroft’s front organisation and has paid some £353,971 over to Conservative Associations in the last two years. In second place there’s the Midlands Industrial Council (Bob Edmiston, Sir Anthony Bamford and others) on £216,291, followed by the Leamington Fund (Freemasons, allegedly) on £109,000 and the Stalbury Trustees (Viscount Cranbourne) on £79,000. The other funder of note is Crescent Properties (Hampstead) Ltd, which has handed over just over £90,000 in the last two years to a single Tory association, that of Hampstead and Highgate – whoever is behind that one must really fucking hate Glenda Jackson, who’s held the seat since 1992.

Totting all that up I make it just shy of £850,000 in major/multiple donations over the last two years.

Looking at the Labour side of things, and the amount of money provided by the Trade Unions, the picture runs as follows:

Amicus – £227,421

UNISON –  £181,006

GMB – £175,999

USDAW – £116,999

CWU – £116,023

TGWU – £81,069

Plus you also have to factor in the Co-operative Party, which as a Labour Party affiliate, funded its MPs/candidates to the tune of £135,580 over the last two years.

Total funding from the major unions to Labour CLPs over the last two years rolls in at a tidy £1,003,377, about £150K or so up on the cash flowing into local Tory coffers.

So Iain has a point?

Well, yes and no.

Its a much better point that that of Robert Halfon, true, but its not quite one that gives the full picture.

You see, where things differ markedly in the manner in which Ashcroft et al funnel money into local Tory Associations as opposed to Unions funding Labour CLPs is that the Trade Union only generally fund those MPs and candidates who they are directly sponsoring as members of their own trade union, which means that much of the Trade Union money that does find its way to CLPs ends up in what are markedly safe Labour seats, whereas the money from Ashcroft and others goes right to where is will have the greatest effect – the marginals.

Labour’s problem is as much one of distribution and of its ties with the unions actually working against it to some extent than anything else.

The other thing that accounts for the Tory’s £1.4 million edge over Labour is nothing new or unusual at all – they’ve always been rather more adept at screwing cash out of their won supporters in individual donations, which make up the bulk of local funding for Conservative Associations – not quite to the scale as in Hampstead, certainly, but enough to make a significant difference when all is done and dusted.

So right now, the picture is about even, although much depends on how much more funding Ashcroft and the other major donors are willing to throw at marginal seats in the run up to the next general election. However, if Labour MPs have any real cause for complaint at the present time it is rather more to do with Labour Party organisation than with what the Tories might be up to.

That’s the real story here – and you can have this one for free, Iain, as its a better [and more accurate] argument than your side are trying to put over at the moment.

Oh, and just to note one thing – the name of the biggest recipient of Ashcroft money.

Its the MP for Haltemprice and Howden – Basher Davis – whose local association has trousered £30,000 off Ashcroft in the last two years.

6 thoughts on “Cash for Constituencies

  1. “As Halfon (and Iain) should know full well, the money that incumbent MPs receive in Parliamentary allowances are subject to strict usage rules and are not permitted to be used for campaigning or other party political activities.”

    And you seriously believe that Labour MPs under Gordon (Sith institute lectures at 11 downing street, charidee commision) Brown would be bovvered about whats allowed and what’s not?

    Special advisers are not allowed to do any campaigning either but Guido’s posted plenty of evidence of them doing just that…

  2. Surprised, Unity, that you missed the Electorial Commissions ruling on the Nationalist MPs miseusing thier communication allowance to fund overtly political newspaper adverts last April/May – They were very naughty boys.

    Speaking as one who has a little to do with party organization here in Caerphilly our MP has been publically castigated by the “Badger Bu**erers” for allowing tea and biscuits out of his official office kitchen to a meeting of party workers – Yup that how petty the “Friends of Ron Davies” are.

    I can asure all and sundry it is as near as possible impossible to divert Parliamentary, and Assembly money to a proper cause.

    If this rampant Tory has any evidence of wrong doing please tell us as we may wish to emulate this.

  3. Not all the trade union donations end up in ultra-safe Labour seats. They will also happily donate to CLPs in very safe Tory seats if the Labour PPC is a member.

    But I quite like the idea that they are neither taking supporters in safe seats for granted nor writing off supporters in unwinnable seats while the rest of the political establishment on both sides spends all its time flirting with the relatively few thousand floating voters in marginal constituencies. Even though I live in the most marginal constituency in the country I find that heartening somehow.

    Many years ago Isaac Asimov (I think) wrote a short story about a place where opinion polls identified the one person who was most representative of the whole electorate – taking the idea of weighted samples to the extreme – and the election day was just that one person voting. Sometimes it feels like we are moving too far in that direction.

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