Ed Miliband’s party reforms have been welcomed by most in Labour as a chance to make the party more transparent and democratic, and to build a mass movement. But the implications for funding continue to cause much anxiety at Brewer’s Green. The decision to require trade unionists to opt into donating to the party, rather than having their payments automatically transferred by general secretaries, will cost Labour at least £4m (if half of the current 2.7 million levy-payers opt-in) and as much as £7m (if 10 per cent do). While some of the shortfall will be made up through large one-off donations by unions, there is likely to be a significant net cost. The understandable concern among many at party HQ (particularly if Labour wins and loses millions in “short money” – the state funding provided to opposition parties) is that their jobs are on the line.
In an interview in the Times yesterday, Lord Levy, who served as Tony Blair’s former chief fundraiser, said Labour had no choice but to seek out large private donors: “Does Labour want to do it? I don’t think they’ve got any option. Is it something Ed Miliband is in love with? No, I don’t think it is. Will he have to do it? Yes, I think he will.”
With this in mind, I can reveal that Blair himself has recently had discussions with Labour figures about making a “large donation” to the party. Blair, who again praised Miliband’s party reforms at the weekend, has appeared at fundraising dinners and has been advising the party on how to maximise Britain’s “Olympic legacy”. A donation from the former PM, who is now estimated to be worth £75m (and will shortly appear on the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time), would certainly be welcomed by party treasurers, but my source suggested that the recent Rebekah Brooks revelations may have delayed the move.
Blair said of Miliband’s reforms at the weekend: “Ed has shown real courage and leadership on this issue. It is a long overdue reform that… was something I should have done myself. It puts individual people in touch with the party and is a great way of showing how Labour can reconnect with the people of Britain.”
On Saturday, former SDP leader David Owen also praised Miliband’s changes and announced that he had given more than £7,500 to Labour to help it “rescue our NHS”.
Update: A friend of Blair’s told The Staggers: “Of course Tony Blair is in discussions about various ways he can best continue to support the Labour Party.”
He added that reports Blair is worth £75m and will appear on this year’s Sunday Times rich list were “complete nonsense”, and pointed out that “Tony Blair has given away nearly £10m to charities since 2007, including £4m to the Royal British Legion. Mr Blair continues to be a UK taxpayer and pays full personal tax on all his earnings worldwide.”