David Cameron and George Osborne speak together at the construction company Skanska on April 22, 2014 in Rickmansworth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories want to buy Britain, but they're losing the campaigning battle

While the the Tories are increasingly reliant on a small pool of mega rich donors, Labour is rebuilding itself as a movement. 

The Tories want to buy their way to power. Today’s revelations over the lobbyists and wealthy elite David Cameron and his ministers dine with and the recent boasts of a £30m Tory war chest underline how out of touch the Tories are. They think that big money means having the "big mo", but in fact this reveals a party without a movement increasingly reliant on a small pool of mega rich donors.

Analysis of Conservative Party donations in Q1 2014 shows that half of the Tories' money came from donors who attended private dinners with David Cameron and other senior ministers. These financiers, hedge fund managers and bankers gave a total of £3.2m. Since Electoral Commission records began, donors associated with the hedge fund industry have given a total of over £43m to the Conservatives.

And what have they got in return? George Osborne’s 2013 Budget abolished stamp duty reserve tax on funds, an effective £145m giveaway to hedge funds, not to mention that the top one per cent of earners have been given a £3bn tax break, worth an average of £100,000 for those earning over £1m. Instead of the families up and down the country suffering a crisis in their living standards, David Cameron is standing up for those he wants to fund his re-election attempt. But while the Conservatives' many millions pay for glossy mailings, they cannot mask their campaigning crisis. 

Under David Cameron, the Tories have hollowed out. Memberships has halved and if it continues to decline at the current rate the Tories are set to see its membership fall below 100,000 by the general election. This will be news to those who noticed the Tories' gleeful reaction to the Newark by-election (which wiped almost 9,000 off the Conservative majority). Mark Wallace gushed: "This by-election was ultimately won by the brute force of a massive activist turnout." Grant Shapps boasted, "When I presented 'Team 2015'…[Cameron] stood up afterwards and said 'this is the best things I've seen from CCHQ in thirty years.'"

A look at the most recent statements of accounts from Conservative Local Associations in target seats, however, tells a story of haemorrhaging membership in the most important electoral seats. Seventy eight per cent of Tory Associations in target seats for which data is available saw falling membership income 2012-13.  Membership subscriptions in these seats which will determine the outcome in 2015 saw a year-on-year drop of 21 per cent - a total of £144,000. This trend is also clear in Conservative cabinet ministers' associations, where there was a 10 per cent fall in membership subscriptions - 168 members even fled David Cameron's backyard of Whitney.

Comments from Association's 2013 accounts reveal that the Tories' on-the-ground machine is troubled by an ageing and disgruntled membership. Mid Dorset and North Poole Association accounts state, "The main reason for loss of support continues to be partly due to old age and death." Croydon Association lamented, "It has been a disappointing year for membership with the declining trend of previous years continuing." Iain Duncan Smith's Chingford and Woodford Green Association moaned that "membership continues to be challenging", while Cambridge Association said, "This has been a year of hard work with no political reward".   

The Conservative Party is becoming a shell.  We know that in 2012 the total income total of £747,000 from membership fees equated to just 3 per cent of the Conservative Party's total income – compared to the Labour Party which received 40 per cent of its income from membership fees and affiliated membership.

Compare this to Labour's energy at local levels. We know that local factors and candidates’ community campaigning activity can make all the difference, which is why Labour has knocked on over 7 million doors across the country this year. We have selected candidates from diverse backgrounds early. We have more trained community organisers than ever before helping deliver face-to-face, doorstep-by-doorstep campaigning. Whereas at the last election the ratio of Labour staff in Westminster and the regions was 2:1 it is now parity, reflecting a rebalancing towards local campaigning. And we have made big reforms to open up our party to make us more rooted in communities and workplaces across the country.

The result is that in the key marginal seats held by the Tories and Lib Dems which had local elections this year, Labour topped the poll in the vast majority, including in key marginal target seats such as Amber Valley, Cannock Chase, Crawley, Harlow, Lincoln and South Swindon. We gained a further 109 council seats from the Tories and Lib Dems in the key marginals. Labour has the campaigning edge because our cost of living message resonates with the reality of people's lives, we have adapted our campaigning to digital communications and, vitally, our activist base is larger and more dynamic than our opponents'.

David Cameron wants to spend his way to victory in 2015.  Labour has another weapon: hardworking people's knowledge that while the Tories increasingly rely on a few, the many are being overlooked, which will spur our growing numbers of activists every day from now until polling day. 

Jon Ashworth is Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South. 

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.