Will abandoning left-wing voters backfire for Keir Starmer?

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Original article by Paul Rogers republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Labour leader’s reluctance to differ from Tories on policy or Gaza sets stage for progressive independent candidates

Keir Starmer has moved Labour to the right – leaving left-wing voters without a political home  | Belinda Jiao/Getty Images

Almost all of Britain’s pollsters agree: the Labour Party is heading for a massive victory in this year’s general election, while Rishi Sunak’s Tories are set for a historic defeat. But there is another, far less talked about shift underway, which could see a wave of independent left-wing MPs elected.

Most polling firms expect Labour to win a majority of more than a hundred seats. A ‘poll of polls’ by political forecasting website Electoral Calculus suggests the party is on course for a 200+ majority.

These polls could all be wrong, but little seems to shake them. There is some evidence, though, of another trend that is yet to be reflected in the polls: Keir Starmer’s unwillingness to set out any clear policy differences from the Conservatives may be backfiring.

One area likely to cause the Labour leader trouble is his position – or lack thereof – on Israel’s war on Gaza.

Several polls in recent months have indicated that around 70% of people in the UK want an immediate ceasefire, and there are weekly demonstrations in towns and cities across the country in support of Palestinians. Organisers of a march in London last week estimated that up to 400,000 people had gathered to demand an end to the violence.

These protests receive minimal coverage in the mainstream media, bar senior Conservatives labelling the peaceful crowds as ‘hate mobs’. The government maintains strong support for Israel, continuing to sell arms and share intelligence with the country, as well as allowing it to use RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as a support base – a position Labour has largely agreed with.

This leaves a huge gap in political representation, at least from the biggest two parties, for swathes of people nationwide.

It was in this opening that former Labour MP George Galloway – who was kicked out of the party in the 2000s after objecting to the UK entering the Iraq war – was elected as an independent MP for Rochdale last month, following a campaign that centred the need for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Another gap in political representation has been created by Starmer’s remodelling of the Labour Party, which has been sanitised to ensure it poses little or no threat to the political establishment. The majority of his policies so far appear to be a continuation of the status quo, suggesting little will change if the party wins the forthcoming election.

In contrast, so bold and progressive were the policies of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, that the higher echelons of the Labour Party and the wider political and media establishment were determined to get rid of him from the offset.

A leadership challenge was mounted against him in the summer of 2016, little over a year after he was elected the party’s leader. Corbyn won comfortably – a fact I found unsurprising, having seen first-hand how he could pull a crowd of more than a thousand people to a hurriedly arranged event half a mile from a city centre.

Internal party opposition to Corbyn surged following his re-election, again backed by the mainstream media. When then Tory prime minister Theresa May called an election in 2017, many anticipated she would win a landslide victory that would consign ‘Corbynism’ to the outer margins.

Instead, Corbyn and his Labour manifesto struck a chord with many voters. Labour gains resulted in a hung parliament, to the horror of the political establishment, which worked to eliminate this threat from the left over the following two years.

After Labour lost the 2019 general election, Corbyn resigned and Starmer moved the party rightwards – prompting tens of thousands of its members to desert it as a result. Their votes are now up for grabs, and left-wing independents are hoping to win them.

Take a meeting in London just last weekend, scarcely reported on except by socialist paper The Morning Star. Two hundred of Labour’s former parliamentary candidates, councillors and supporters gathered to develop an alternative to its current stance on Gaza and other issues.

A sense of the mood at the event was best summed up by Tyneside’s independent socialist mayor Jamie Driscoll, who quit Labour after the party decided not to select him to run again for the north-east mayoral election in May.

In a video message played at the meeting, Driscoll said: “In the next election, both parties will have the same manifesto and the same rich donors pulling the strings.”

similar event is planned in Blackburn next month – just one part of a much wider movement that will likely see independent left-wing candidates standing against Labour candidates in many seats in the general election.

This is already being seen in England’s upcoming local council elections, where clusters of non-party, progressive candidates are working together in many parts of the country. In Blackburn, for example, every ward will have an independent left-wing candidate standing, as will all six wards in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Early indications suggest similar trends in Merseyside and parts of London.

The accepted political wisdom in the UK is that once a general election is called, voters tend to revert to the usual pattern of voting. But if independent candidates were to pick up substantial numbers of votes in the local elections, even taking some council seats, it could indicate a political shift that means this wisdom will not apply this year.

This may seem unlikely but there is undeniably a political vacuum waiting to be filled – and a sense that something is afoot in British politics that is simply not being recognised.

Original article by Paul Rogers republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Status Quo, again and again and again and again
Continue ReadingWill abandoning left-wing voters backfire for Keir Starmer?

Where Labour and the Tories got their money from in 2023

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Original article by Ethan Shone republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak saw donations to their respective parties increase significantly last year
 | Leon Neal & Carl Court/Getty Images

Labour’s cash from private donors now dwarfs donations from unions, while the Tories got their biggest bung ever

Britain suffered a bleak economic landscape in 2023, with wages stagnant and costs rising across the board, but political donors and the parties they give to seem to have been unimpacted. All parties declared more than £93m in total compared with £52m in the previous year. And the cash looks set to keep pouring in ahead of the general election, which could take place as soon as May – although our money is on a November poll.

The Conservatives received the most donations by far, raking in £44.5m in cash, compared with Labour’s total of £21.6m, £6m for the Liberal Democrats, £610,000 for the Green Party and £255,000 for Reform – who now have their first MP in the form of ‘Red Wall Rottweiler’ Lee Anderson. The SNP registered only £76,000 cash donations in 2023, with £50,000 from the estate of a donor who passed away some years prior.

In addition to this, parties received non-cash donations – for things like premises, staff costs, sponsorship, consultancy services and more – worth £4.2m in total. Other regulated recipients like Labour Together, The New Conservatives, Labour First, and the Carlton Club Political Committee, took in £2.5m – these are campaigning organisations affiliated to political parties but legally separate from them, and often provide financial support to a particular faction within a party.

We’ve had a closer look at some of the underlying trends behind the numbers and picked out a few key points to look out for in the months ahead, based on what these donations tell us about the state of play in the two main parties.

Labour’s reliance on companies and individuals over trade unions

Much has been made of Labour’s increasingly close relationship with big business and the wealthy under Keir Starmer. Supporters of the party leadership argue that Labour has to be able to compete with the spending power of the Conservatives in the general election, and so has to look beyond the traditional funding source of the trade union movement toward people and businesses with deep pockets. Critics, however, might suggest that the interests of the trade union movement and the interests of those with the deepest pockets may not accord.

The concern among those of the latter view is that, as donations from the wealthy come to represent a larger proportion of the party’s war chest, there could be a shift in policy in that direction. Dark Arts has already reported on the access and influence enjoyed by corporate lobbying firms who employ Labour candidates to connect their clients with senior party figures. I’ve also written for openDemocracy about the millions that have poured into the party from bankers and financiers under Starmer. And our analysis of donations data for 2023 shows another potentially concerning trend for those worried about a corporate takeover of the party.

Of the £21.5m in cash received by the party in 2023, just £5.9m came from the trade union movement, compared with £14.5m from companies and individuals – a huge increase on the previous year, and indeed more than in the three previous years of Keir Starmer’s leadership combined. As trade union contributions have dipped slightly, from around £6.9m in 2020 and 2021 to £5.3m in 2022, donations from businesses and individuals have soared: they totalled £2.3m in 2020 and rose to £3m in 2021 and £7.6m in 2022 before nearly doubling last year.

Around £10m of this total comes from just four sources: Gary Lubner (£4.6m), David Sainsbury (£3.1m), Fran Perrin (£1m) and Ecotricity (£1m), the green energy firm owned by prominent eco-activist Dale Vince. This means that just two individuals gave the Labour Party more money last year than all the trade unions combined.

Lubner is the former CEO of Belron, a global firm specialising in vehicle glass repair. He has been donating to the party since meeting shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves at a dinner hosted by the big-four consultancy firm PwC in 2021. Sainsbury – of supermarket fame – has been an on-off Labour donor for decades, forging a close relationship with the party during the New Labour years when he got a seat in the Lords and served as a science minister. His daughter, Fran Perrin, was an adviser in Tony Blair’s Downing Street.

Including trade unions, there were 114 donors who gave £25,000 or more last year, while the overall average sum donated over the year was £111,499.

Tories in need of new funding sources ahead of GE

It is perhaps an indictment of the British political system that two of the largest individual donors to political parties last year were both men with the last name Sainsbury. David Sainsbury’s contribution to Labour was dwarfed by the £10m left by his cousin, Tory peer John Sainsbury, to the Conservatives in his will – the largest single donation ever received by the party.

Of the £44.5m in cash received by the Conservatives last year, more than £20m came from two sources: John Sainsbury and Frank Hester, an IT entrepreneur from Leeds who has given £5m personally and another £5m through his firm, The Phoenix Partnership. Hester’s firm has profited from public sector contracts and his ties with the party are under heightened scrutiny following the publication of an investigation by the Guardian that revealed he had said former Labour MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and should be shot.

A further £11.3m came from five individuals:

  • Mohamed Mansour, Egyptian-born billionaire who controls the behemoth conglomerate Mansour Group, which has interests in real estate, finance, retail and tech: £5m
  • Graham Edwards, co-founder of one of the largest private companies in the UK, Telereal Trillium, which owns thousands of properties and approximately 60 million square feet of land: £2m
  • Amit Lohia, son of billionaire petrochemical and fertiliser tycoon Sri Prakash Lohia, chair of Indorama: £2m
  • Christopher Barry Wood, founder of biotech firm Medannex: £1.3m
  • Alan Howard, hedge fund manager who co-founded Jersey-based Brevan Howard and has significant interests in crypto-currency: £1m

Even without the mega-donation from John Sainsbury, the party comfortably brought in more than Labour last year, and plans pushed through recently by the government raising the amount that political parties can spend at a general election have been widely seen as a sign the party still believes it can leverage its financial pull to good effect against Starmer’s Labour.

However, when the one-off £10m donation is discounted, the party’s fundraising efforts slowed down significantly in the latter half of last year. In the first six months of 2023 the party received £20.6m, compared with just £12m in the second half of the year. Without the £10m from Lord Sainsbury, the party would have taken in just £3m in the third quarter, a huge drop from Q2 (£9.2m) and Q1 (£11.4m).

This might suggest that, at least into the latter portion of last year, the Conservatives were not planning on holding an election in the early portion of 2024, as we would expect to see an uptick in fundraising in anticipation of that.

Overall, there were 286 donors who gave the Conservative Party £25,000 or more last year. The average Tory donor gave £90,811 over the course of the year.

If you’re concerned about the influence of money in politics and want to support our reporting in this area, sign up to our newly-launched newsletter, The Dark Arts, on Substack.

Original article by Ethan Shone republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingWhere Labour and the Tories got their money from in 2023

Tories fear losing half their seats in May local polls as pre-election budget flops

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Victories in councils won during Boris Johnson’s ‘vaccine boost’ of 2021 face wipeout, leaving Rishi Sunak’s regime in peril

Senior Tories are braced for a catastrophic set of local elections that will see a collapse in council seats won at the peak of the “vaccine bounce” enjoyed by Boris Johnson.

Rishi Sunak’s allies regard the results as the most dangerous moment remaining for the prime minister before the general election. While many of Sunak’s Tory critics have little appetite for removing him, some said they were asking themselves: “What is there to lose?” after a pre-election budget that has failed to increase Conservative support.

Sunak, under pressure to explain how he would pay for his pledge to abolish national insurance contributions by the end of the next parliament, has expanded on the measures in the budget by announcing that he is preparing a new benefits squeeze to fund it.


Continue ReadingTories fear losing half their seats in May local polls as pre-election budget flops

Morning Star: We need an emergency Budget – but there’s no relief in sight

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street, London, with his ministerial box before delivering his Budget in the Houses of Parliament, March 6, 2024

BRITAIN needed an emergency Budget today, one that addressed the profound crises facing local authorities, healthcare, education, you name it.

It got nothing of the sort. A scattering of headline investments like the “NHS productivity plan,” focused on IT systems and ignoring the staff shortages that have led to waiting lists seven million long.

A 2p cut to National Insurance that benefits higher earners more and, by reducing the tax take, tightens the funding squeeze on essential services. Bigger cuts to capital gains tax, incentivising the property speculation that has helped drive the housing crisis.

It was a complacent Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt spending longer trying to explain away Britain’s “technical” recession as some kind of economic success (the same Chancellor said last year he was “comfortable” with Bank of England policy causing a recession to reduce wages) than he did outlining new measures that might make a difference.

Britain has “turned the corner” on inflation, he claims, though prices rising more slowly doesn’t mean prices falling and millions of us know what we pay for food, energy and a roof over our heads has soared in recent years.

There is plenty of money. Last month Britain’s Big Four banks announced their highest annual profits ever.

We see record-breaking profits in the energy cartels, big agribusiness, soaring profit margins in the FTSE 350 table of big companies. These aren’t “difficult economic circumstances.” It is class war.

And if Labour won’t strike a blow for workers in that war, unions will need to find another way to change our country’s direction.

Continue ReadingMorning Star: We need an emergency Budget – but there’s no relief in sight

Hunt gambles on tax as services crumble

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street, London, with his ministerial box before delivering his Budget in the Houses of Parliament, March 6, 2024.

PUBLIC services are at still greater risk as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt gambled the Tories’ election hopes on a last-ditch tax-cutting Budget.

Mr Hunt announced a 2 per cent cut in National Insurance in a bid to put more money in workers’ pockets before Britain goes to the polls later this year.

But the price will be a major squeeze in public spending in the next parliament, with many department budgets likely to fall in real terms.

The Chancellor also abolished the non-dom tax rule which lets the wealthiest avoid paying taxes on overseas earnings, a key Labour pledge, and brought more families within the scope of child benefit payments.

The Budget therefore leaves Labour more politically denuded than ever — it will either have to find other ways to raise the money it had planned for public services from scrapping the non-dom loophole, or more likely drop residual spending commitments altogether.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told MPs that Labour supported the National Insurance cut too, leaving the parties exchanging rhetorical sound and fury on economic policy but with no significant differences.


Continue ReadingHunt gambles on tax as services crumble