How Labour should respond to the Tories’ funding attack

The party must remind voters that union donations are made up of thousands of voluntary contribution

The latest party donation figures are out and it's taken the Tories no time to go on the offensive over Labour's reliance on the trade unions.

The figures are striking: just over half of the £10.9m raised by Labour came from the union movement, £1.67m of that total coming from Unite. But, as ever, it's worth pointing out that all donations are taken from union political funds to which members contribute voluntarily. In the case of Unite, 1,291,408 members choose to do so. Loose talk about "union barons" too often ignores this democratic funding structure.

Labour, £20m in debt according to the aspirant treasurer John Prescott, will be relieved that the funding gap between itself and the Tories has narrowed somewhat since the election. The Tories managed to raise roughly £1.5m more than Labour in the second quarter of this year (without any help, no doubt to your surprise, from Michael Ashcroft), compared to around £9.5m more in the first quarter.

But perhaps the most eye-catching fact from today's figures is that the total £26.3m in donations is the highest since records began. The ethical case for state funding remains a persuasive one, but it looks as if fears that parties would go to the wall have been exaggerated.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.