We should be upset that the most extravagant social event of the year has been cancelled

ARK galas can raise as much as £26m in one night. Why are we storming the Bastille?

“It was all getting to feel a little bit 1788 and all that”. So said somebody connected with the opulent ARK gala in this week’s Financial Times. In one fell swoop, a symbolic link was drawn between Louis XVI’s pre-revolution balls at the Palace of Versailles and the annual ARK charity gala – thought of as the most extravagant social event of the year – that has this year been cancelled.

Just to give you a taste of this extravagance, previous ARK galas have been hosted in Kensington Palace Gardens and London Waterloo’s former Eurostar terminal, which was decked out with mature trees to resemble a woodland grove. Guests – mostly made up of "A-Listers" and financiers – have been entertained by Madonna, Bill Clinton and Prince, while served Krug and lobster. And the auction is another thing entirely – no homemade hampers here – prizes have ranged from a private dinner with Mikhail Gorbachev and yoga with Sting to a week on a private superyacht.

All the money from the gala – which has topped £100 m over the years – is donated to ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), a charity founded by Arpad “Arki” Busson, one of the country’s most successful hedge fund managers.

So it is little wonder that such an annual ostentatious gaiety has been cancelled. Such irresponsible illustrious in an age of austerity. Displays of excess while the remainder of the country is bordering on recession, claim most of the news stories, is not a good image.

But this is ignoring the wider point, which is raising money for charity is hard enough in these times. There is a simple rule: the more extravagant the party, the more money is raised. Besides, persuading wealthy individuals to part with their cash is no easy feat, so what if it takes Krug, Clinton and Madonna to entice wallets and purses to open.

In this, the hedge funds are leading the way. Chris Hohn is one of the UK’s most generous philanthropists having donated over £800m; his Children's Investment Fund Foundation receives direct grants from his hedge fund of the same name. Two other philanthropic arms of hedge funds – Tudor Investment Corporation and Tiger Management – accounted for about £110m in 2010 according to research by the Alternative Investment Management Association.

Then there are the parties, which – as the ARK gala has shown – can raise as much as £26m in one night. So, regardless of the 1 per cent vs. austerity, these types of events are crucial for charities and, unlike 1788, there will be no storming of the Bastille.

Kate Middleton at last year's ARK gala. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.