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Why Critical Headlines About Donor Dinners Raise A Smile In Downing Street

Last Updated: Friday, July 4th, 2014

In politics, as with so many things, it’s tempting to judge a book by its cover. The personalities, the catchphrases, the emotional and cultural baggage carried by politicians and parties all compete for our attention.

They’re important, of course, but they’re only one part of the political process. The showbiz elements often distract people from looking at the machinery, which counts for just as much – and sometimes even more.

Just as you wouldn’t buy a car based purely on its colour or bodywork, it’s impossible to get an accurate idea of the political scene without considering the potential for each party to project its messages to the people come election time.

That’s why this week’s most important political story is party finances.

Labour are still in severe financial difficulties. They have outstanding debts, creaking relationships with some of their union backers and the Co-Operative is more occupied by repairing its own finances than in bailing the party out.

At the same time, Ed Miliband’s early ambitions to bring in vast amounts via millions of small donations have evaporated.

By contrast, the Conservatives are now debt-free and on track to raise enough to spend the maximum amount allowed by the Electoral Commission on the 2015 campaign. Given the concerns that right-wing fund managers and traditionalists were being tempted away by UKIP, that is better news than expected.

Already the Opposition are trying to spin the disparity in their favour, posing as the plucky underdogs up against wealthy fat-cats. The reality, though, is that while the Conservative fund-raising effort has been successful, Labour are at a disadvantage largely due to their own failings.

Tony Blair demonstrated that there is no inherent reason why Labour should fail to raise money. The uncomfortable truth for Ed Miliband is that his coffers are empty because too few people think he would make a good Prime Minister.

In fact, his anti-business rhetoric may have deepened the problem further by encouraging Tory donors to open their chequebooks for fear of what might happen to the economy if “Red Ed” were to get into government.

As my grandmother used to say, “money isn’t everything – but it’s a good earthly friend”.  While it’s perfectly possible to have a big budget and still lose, it’s much harder to win without the money to finance a full campaign.

Labour will no doubt continue to flannel, but it will be increasingly hard for Miliband to distract from the financial problems at the heart of his party.  We’ve already been told that they will focus cash online and in the marginals, but that is an excuse rather than a solution.

Similarly, the attempts to make Tory fundraising successes into weaknesses will make little impact on David Cameron. If the price of raising large amounts is having to put up with some negative Guardian headlines about dining with donors, he will gladly pay it.

After all, he knows that Ed Miliband would be doing exactly the same if he could – but he can’t.

By Mark Wallace



Paul Goodman: Europe: Cameron’s steeplechase by moonlight
‘The Prime Minister is by background and inclination a supporter of Britain’s EU membership.  He will want to return from any renegotiation recommending an In Vote. The gamble which he is taking couldn’t be more obvious.  Wanting to stay In, he will keeping warning Merkel that Britain could go Out – thus dropping a hint that he might have to back such a course…Cameron is thus pursuing what Robert Blake, in his biography of Disraeli, called a steeplechase by moonlight. These are as perilous as they are exhilarating.’ – Read More

Peter Franklin: The state should stop subsidising poverty pay  ‘The modern welfare state effectively transfers resources from companies who do pay a just wage to those who don’t. This represents a major distortion of the market – one that all conservatives should object to. Is there anything government can do put a stop to this?’ – Read More

Benedict Rogers: Cameron is the modern-day Martin Luther   ‘In five hundred years the dispute has moved from the theological to the political, and 730 miles from Rome to Brussels. The question, though, is the same: can we reform an enormous, overbearing, unwieldy institution founded with good intentions and a worthy vision but given to corrupt practices, or do we need to split?’ – Read More

Andrew Gimson: Profile: Liam Fox – Will he make it back to Cabinet in the reshuffle?   ‘What if Fox is seen as too much his own man? While competing for the Tory leadership, he declared, after calling for the abortion time limit to be reduced to 12 to 14 weeks: “I’m not going to pretend that my views are other than they are for the sake of political convenience.” The candour that lends him authenticity could also sink him.’ – Read More

Nadhim Zahawi MP: The third way that could save Iraq from collapse   ‘Focus groups run by YouGov have shown that Sunni areas do not identify with an independent state in the same way as many Kurds do. But what they do want is a bigger share of the political pie in Iraq. Unfortunately, the federalism enshrined in the 2005 Iraqi constitution has yet to be given a fair chance; what we have seen over the past eleven years has only been a half-hearted attempt, pushed by the Kurds, and undermined by the central government.’ – Read More

Fiona Bruce MP: How the Government’s three parent policy is risking genetic abnormalities   ‘The Government needs to slow down, consult other experts and not bring any legislation to Parliament unless or until all the necessary preclinical work has been concluded and published in peer reviewed journals…No mother wants to conceive a child with mitochondrial disease but neither do they wish to conceive a child with genetic abnormalities because we have rushed into introducing scientific techniques which should have been tested more robustly.’ – Read More

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