Labour in ‘cash for access’ scandal over meetings with £150k donor

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

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have engaged heavily with the financial services industry
 | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Labour top brass including Keir Starmer gave Bloomberg ‘exclusive’ look at party’s financial plan at private meeting

Labour leader Keir Starmer, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, and four other senior party figures met with a major media and financial information conglomerate weeks after it donated £150,000 to the party – sparking concerns of “cash for access” from transparency campaigners.

The meeting between Labour and the Bloomberg group, which took place in Edinburgh on 8 December last year, was described as “suspicious” and “highly unusual” by two Labour sources.

The private roundtable event came shortly after the US business conglomerate, majority owned by American businessman and politician Michael Bloomberg, made its first donation to Labour in seven years. The donation was made by a Bloomberg subsidiary called Bloomberg Trading Facility Limited.

The party used the meeting to offer Bloomberg and others in attendance “an exclusive dive” into its flagship financial services policy document, which was published the following month, according to a social media post by a person involved in coordinating the event.

Labour did not deny that the meeting was connected to the donation, with a spokesperson telling openDemocracy: “It is standard practice for the Labour Party to meet with the private sector.” The party did not reply to openDemocracy’s query about whether Bloomberg was given exclusive access to the flagship financial services policy document. Bloomberg declined to comment for this story.

The Edinburgh event was facilitated by Sovereign Strategy, a lobbying firm that has represented Bloomberg for almost two decades, which promises to get its clients’ “messages heard at the highest levels of government”, according to the firm’s website.

Lobbyists often hold such events to introduce their clients to Labour frontbenchers so they can try to shape the party’s policy on issues relevant to their businesses.

But two Labour sources, who spoke to openDemocracy on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation for appearing critical of the party’s leadership, said the Edinburgh meeting was “highly unusual” and “suspicious” due to the sheer number of senior politicians present.

Starmer and Reeves were joined at the event by shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds, shadow City minister Tulip Siddiq, as well as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Daniel Johnson MSP, the party’s business spokesperson in Holyrood.

Other comparable meetings are typically attended by only one or two shadow ministers. openDemocracy has analysed more than 200 meetings attended by Labour frontbenchers in the past year based on publicly available data and triangulation through multiple sources, and found the Edinburgh meeting involved far more senior figures than any other.

The meeting took place less than two weeks after Bloomberg Trading Facility Ltd, a subsidiary of Bloomberg LP, donated £150,000 to Labour – with the conglomerate becoming one of the party’s top corporate donors for all of 2023 in a single day, according to Electoral Commission records.

A Bloomberg company last made a cash donation to the Labour Party in late 2016, when it gave the party £60,000. The firm has since handed the Conservatives £260,000, most recently donating £100,000 in June 2022.

Simon Youel, the head of policy and advocacy at not-for-profit advocacy group Positive Money, told openDemocracy that voters should be worried by the timing of the meeting – which took place as Labour finalised a key document to set out its policy on the financial services sector.

“What is most concerning is that weeks after this meeting, Labour published a plan for financial services that reads like a love letter to Big Finance, with much in there that could have been written by the industry itself,” Youel said.

Labour spent months drafting its financial services report, bringing in a staffer from City consultancy Oliver Wyman to put it together. After its publication in January, Reeves and Siddiq threw a lavish, no-press-allowed reception in the City of London’s famed Guildhall to thank the industry for its contributions.

In a since-deleted LinkedIn post, a Sovereign Strategy staffer said the roundtable discussion had a focus on the “outlook for the financial services industry and an exclusive dive into Labour’s launch of the financial services review”.

Youel added: “Rachel Reeves herself has acknowledged New Labour’s errors in relying on an under-regulated financial sector to generate wealth, yet the party seems set on repeating the mistake of letting the City of London dictate policy-making, which inevitably the public will again be left paying the price for.”

In a video from the event, Starmer can be heard telling the attendees: “What you now see is a Labour Party that is fundamentally different to the Labour Party that fought the last general election. Unrecognisably different. And very obviously pro-business.”

The video, which Labour released on the day of the meeting, made no reference to who was at the event or what was discussed.

Bloomberg holds a unique position within the financial sector, providing hardware, software, data and advisory services to all manner of financial services institutions.

Its computer systems, Bloomberg Terminals, are used by banks, institutional investors and financial analysts all over the world to access high-level investment data and place financial transactions. The company also has a news division and TV channel that employ over 2700 journalists in 120 countries, according to its website. Its eponymous billionaire founder and majority owner, Michael Bloomberg, is a fixture in US politics and one of the richest people in the world. He was mayor of New York City for 12 years, before running for President as recently as 2020.

Youel said that access to frontbench politicians could give Bloomberg a “value-add” for its clients, raising “serious concerns around cash for access in our democracy”.

The roundtable was also attended by investment manager Baillie Gifford, Aegon Asset Management and NatWest Group. For several months in 2022, NatWest provided a member of staff to Jonathan Reynolds’ office, valued at £13,800.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Donations from corporate entities are declared in line with Electoral Commission rules. Labour is proud to engage with the financial services sector as we develop policies to grow our economy after 14 years of Tory chaos and decline.”

Scottish Labour refused to provide any additional details about the meeting, with a spokesperson saying only that the party “meets with a range of stakeholders to discuss a range of issues”.

They added: “Boosting economic growth is at the heart of our plans to deliver a fairer and more prosperous Scotland, and we are working in partnership with both businesses and trade unions to deliver that.”

Partnership with business
Lobbyist Sovereign Strategy has in recent months strengthened its links to the Labour Party, which is widely expected to win this year’s general election.

Keir Starmer is featured in a brochure published by the lobbying firm in September 2022. The Labour leader is pictured posing for a photo alongside Sovereign chairman Alan Donnelly, a former Labour MEP, in front of a display bearing Bloomberg’s branding.

The brochure goes on to quote a senior Bloomberg executive as saying that the firm has “expanded our influence with key decision-makers”.

Sovereign Strategy also donated £5,000 to deputy leader Angela Rayner “for campaigning activities” last month, according to the register of members’ financial interests. Just over a week after the donation from Sovereign to Rayner, Starmer met with Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire co-founder of Bloomberg, to discuss “Labour’s partnership with business”, .

This donation appears to be a breach of the Public Affairs Code set out by the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), a trade body representing UK lobbyists including Sovereign Strategy. A breach of the code could result in a member being reprimanded or their membership of the organisation being suspended.

Section 8 of the code – a set of rules on the proper lobbying of governments – states that PRCA members must not “make any award of payment in money or in kind… to any MP”. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on Rayner’s part.

A spokesperson for Sovereign told openDemocracy the donation was made by the company’s chairman in a personal capacity, but was unwilling to provide any further details. A Labour source, however, confirmed the donation was from the company and made by its company bank account.

The PRCA said it was reviewing the information openDemocracy provided.

In January this year, a senior account manager at Sovereign who was involved in organising the Edinburgh roundtable joined the executive committee of Labour Business, an affiliate of the party that focuses on fostering links between Labour and the business community, in January.

The Sovereign staffer in question previously worked for the Labour Party for a number of years in the business relations and endorsements team.

They are one of a large number of former Labour staffers to have left their positions at the party to join Westminster consultancies and lobbying firms the past 18 months, as firms look to beef-up their Labour bona fides in anticipation of a Conservative wipeout at the next election.

Steve Goodrich, the head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, told openDemocracy: “Parties should scrupulously avoid the perception that they’re offering privileged political access in return for cash.

“The next general election looks set to be the most expensive in modern times so it’s crucial that politicians of all stripes avoid stumbling into quid pro quos in the rush for funds.

“Until we reduce the cost of politics, cases like these will continue to undermine public trust in our democracy, which is already perilously low.”

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

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Continue ReadingLabour in ‘cash for access’ scandal over meetings with £150k donor

Government drags Britain a step closer to war in the Middle East

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People take part in a pro-Palestine march in central London organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, April 13, 2024

THE British government dragged the nation a step closer to war in the Middle East after the Prime Minister admitted today it had sent RAF fighter jets to shoot down Iranian drones and missiles.

The escalation of the Iranian and Israeli tensions over the weekend prompted calls for “a halt to this terrifying slide to wider conflict” in addition to the continuing demands by tens of thousands of protesters for a ceasefire in Gaza.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that while supporting “all measures designed to restore calm” and prevent a wider regional war, “we continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of our other partners in the region.”

And shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper supported the government’s decision to involve the RAF.

Continue ReadingGovernment drags Britain a step closer to war in the Middle East

Starmer supports nuclear weapons, Greenpeace says nuclear power an obstacle to net zero, climate change moves into uncharted territory

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‘Starmer’s only spending commitment is to weapons of war’

Peace campaigners blast Sir Keir for pledging to boost arms spending while backing austerity for public services

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer faced backlash as he vowed to put billions into the pockets of war-hungry arms companies after claiming there are no funds for cash-starved public services.

Today, Sir Keir announced plans to boost Britain’s defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP.

Matching the Tories’ current pledge, costs could amount to £9 billion.

He made the announcement ahead of a visit to a BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, where the next generation of Trident nuclear submarines are being built.

According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, costs for the programme could spiral as high as £205bn.

During the visit he pledged to “triple lock” Labour’s commitment to Britain’s nuclear submarine programme, backing the building of the four new submarines.

He reiterated his support for Aukus, a security pact with Australia and the United States, which involves the development of nuclear submarines as part of Washington’s bid to encircle China with military alliances.

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Starmer claims that we need nuclear weapons “in the face of rising global threats and growing Russian aggression.” Well, Britain is already deeply embroiled in a conflict involving Russia. Nuclear weapons have done nothing to avoid that conflict and indeed, the expansion of nuclear-armed Nato to the borders of Russia is a huge contributing factor.

If Starmer truly believed in advancing international security, he would be calling for a ceasefire in Ukraine now, alongside a ceasefire in Gaza, where Israel (a nuclear-armed state) is committing genocide against the Palestinian people.

However, the biggest lie in today’s announcement is the idea that investment in weapons of mass destruction will “build a secure future” for families in Barrow or elsewhere.

If Labour really cares about the creation of secure well-paid jobs, it would take the money to be wasted on Trident and invest in rebuilding Britain’s manufacturing base, creating high-skilled, well-paid jobs for communities which has suffered the ravages of 40 years of deindustrialisation.

As former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said today, “Security is being able to put food on the table. It’s having a roof over your head.”

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Construction of one of the two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, UK. Credit: Anna Barclay/Getty.

Nuclear energy provides around 10% of electricity globally and around 25% of the world’s low-carbon electricity. With 439 operable reactors already in existence and a further 61 under construction, governments are investing in nuclear as a bridge in the energy transition.

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Speaking about the role of nuclear energy in the UK’s transition, Parr tells Energy Monitor: “It doesn’t help with the kind of grid system that we need, which is going to be renewables heavy. I think the UK focus on nuclear power is now an obstacle to delivering net zero because it is sucking up time, energy and political bandwidth, which can be spent on more useful things.”

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March 2024 was 1.68C warmer than “pre-industrial” times – before humans started burning large amounts of fossil fuels – according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Continue ReadingStarmer supports nuclear weapons, Greenpeace says nuclear power an obstacle to net zero, climate change moves into uncharted territory

Activist group Youth Demand protest at Keir Starmer’s home

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Youth Demand protests at Keir Starmer's home 9 April 2024. Image: Youth Demand.
Youth Demand protests at Keir Starmer’s home 9 April 2024. Image: Youth Demand.

Protesters use children’s shoes to make powerful statement at Keir Starmer’s home

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The group, known as Youth Demand, describe themselves as a ‘new youth resistance campaign fighting for an end to genocide’.

The demonstrators hung a banner outside Sir Keir’s house that read: ‘Starmer stop the killing’ surrounded by red hand prints.

Protesters then laid rows of children’s shoes in front of the Labour leader’s door, a tactic that has been utilised at a number of pro-Palestine protests to signify children killed in Gaza.

Rishi Sunak, who’s own home in North Yorkshire was the target of climate protesters in 2023, said such incidents would not be tolerated.

In a post to X the Prime Minister said: ‘I don’t care what your politics are, no MP should be harassed at their own home.

Well feck you Rishi “no MP should be harassed at their own home” Sunak. These people are responding to you and similar politician cnuts aiding and abetting genocide. You should reflect on your own and your mate Keir Starmer’s actions supporting Israel’s genocide.

Continue ReadingActivist group Youth Demand protest at Keir Starmer’s home

MPs involved in Israel arms exports could be criminally liable for war crimes

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A Palestinian man cries while holding a dead child who was found under the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli air strikes in Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023

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It said that the International Court of Justice’s conclusion that there is a “plausible risk of genocide” oblige Britain to suspend the sales.

They called on the government to immediately halt arms exports given the clear risk that they might be used to commit serious violations “in breach of the UK’s domestic Strategic Export Licensing Criteria […] including its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.”

The letter said: “We recall that UK nationals responsible for aiding and abetting international crimes, as well as those committing them as primary perpetrators, are liable for prosecution in the UK pursuant to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the International Criminal Court Act 2001.”

Response to Rishi Sunak's extremism speech at Downing Street 1 March 2024. Second version of this image with text slightly altered.
Response to Rishi Sunak’s extremism speech at Downing Street 1 March 2024. Second version of this image with text slightly altered.
Zionist Keir Starmer supports Israel's Gaza genocide.
Zionist Keir Starmer supports Israel’s Gaza genocide.

Continue ReadingMPs involved in Israel arms exports could be criminally liable for war crimes