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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.