10 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Party Funding

Last week saw the release of all registered parties’ finances for 2012 – gold dust for politics geeks. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the media chose to ignore pretty much all of the data, probably due to all the much more newsworthy story of a couple having a baby.

Saying that, the press did pick up on Labour’s finances (no surprise there), noting that it received the most donations out of any party after raking in over £33m (and spending over £30m of it). Yet this fails to note that the total was in reality a fair bit higher than that due to the existence of the Co-operative Party, which only runs candidates jointly with Labour – effectively adding over £1m to Labour’s spending. So £34m spent, with not much of a boost for Miliband. There are some much more interesting findings altogether ignored. Here’s the top ten:

  1. The BNP remains heavily in debt (despite claims by Nick Griffin that it’s on the mend), with over £356,000 in liabilities. While a slight improvement on its previous £541k of debt, in relation to its income (nearly £650k) it still equates to the party being 55% in the red. If we were using the domestic analogy those the BNP’s hard-right allies love to invoke, it ain’t too healthy a household financially.
  2. UKIP’s rise isn’t really reflected in its 2012 finances after bringing in £1.23m, only slightly up on its £1.07m in 2011. And it spent just over a million pounds, little up on its £971k the year before. So its surge in membership and support doesn’t seem to have translated immediately into hard cash. On the other hand, it looks like it’s building up a substantial-ish fighting fund for the 2015 election (see here). Thus far it’s amassed over £323k, tripling its 2011 assets of £104k. Keep your eye out for a continuing trend in 2014 in the run-up to the election…
  3. Interestingly, the SNP’s income plummeted last year from over £5m in 2011 to just over £2.3m. That doesn’t bode well for its independence hopes. It’s also reflected in its expenditure, which went from £3.45m in 2011 to £2.66m last year. It does have half a million quid in reserves, meaning the SNP could be gearing up for a big referendum campaign spending spree in 2014. Or if could reflect its activists and independence supporters tunnelling funds directly into the Yes to Independence campaign, a more urgent priority and perhaps a more efficient conduit for those hoping for freedom from British tyranny. Check out the graph anyway. It’s pretty dramatic
  4. There’s a more mixed picture for the Welsh nationalists, with Plaid Cymru racking up £683k in income and spending £594k of it – yet with similar assets to that of UKIP of £318k. Why does a Welsh-only party have the same amount in the kitty as a UK-wide party polling double that of the Liberal Democrats?
  5. My own Green Party of England and Wales is on the up, remaining one of the only parties to spend less than it brings in. Basically, the Greens know how to ‘balance the books’. Scoring some steady gains in local government, the party ran a pretty tight ship on an income of £781k (not much more than the collapsing BNP’s £650k), and spent £745k. Not bad work.
  6. At risk of pointing out the Pope’s religion, things aren’t great for the Liberal Democrats. They’ve gone from holding nearly £2m of assets in 2006 to being £1.15m in the red today. At the same time, their income has gone from £10m in 2010 (at the peak of Cleggmania) to £6.4m today, a collapse of more than a third.
  7. Labour are actually much less in debt than the Conservatives. Says a lot about Osborne’s economic policies both for the country and his own party…
  8. The Communist Party of Britain seems to be doing reasonably (especially given it sort of disbanded at the start of the 1990s), with an income of £123k while spending over £129k in 2012 – leading some to ask how it was planning to make up the shortfall: Keynesian stimulus or ruthless austerity? Either way it’s unclear what they spend it on given they rarely stand candidates. Either way we won’t know who funds them since they stopped registering large donations in mid-2009 (check it yourself here).
  9. Looking at the latest figures for 2013 also offers some interesting insights – out of the blue, the ~200 member strong Socialist Party of Great Britain, not to be confused with the much larger Socialist Party of England and Wales (hold off the People’s Front of Judea jokes…), raked in a £295,775 donation early this year from a certain Mr. Stanley Robert Parker. A quick Google search shows he’s a published sociologist (cited on Wikipedia, no less). He’s also, clearly, a wealthy backer of one of the smallest far-left grouplets in the country. In fact, his donation is the 7th largest party donation of the whole first quarter of 2013. The same chap also gave them £150k at the end of 2012. That’s nearly half a million in a few months. Nothing’s too good for the workers, comrades…
  10. Company donations made up over 40% of UKIP’s income in the first part of the year, a higher proportion than any other party (the Lib Dems ranking second at nearly 25%, with the Tories on less than a fifth).

All this goes to show how much the media can bury – and how party finance, much like our economy, remains a very messy, unstable beast on the whole.

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