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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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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