The Liberal Democrats may still be trailing Labour in the polls (though the most pessimistic MPs fear that could eventually change) but they have overtaken Jeremy Corbyn’s party in the donation stakes. In quarter four of 2016, the Lib Dems raised £1,972,904 to Labour’s £1,970,055 – the first time the party has beaten the opposition in 10 years and the first time it has ever raised more if trade union donations are included.
The figures reflect how Brexit has strengthened the Lib Dems and further weakened Labour. Businessman Greg Nasmyth gave Tim Farron’s party £1m: the largest donation in Q4 and the largest the party has received for a decade. Nasmyth’s largesse was gifted to aid the Lib Dems’ fight against Brexit. Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, Farron has demanded that the government promise a referendum on the UK’s withdrawal agreement.
Lib Dem president Sal Brinton said: “These donations are because of Brexit. People want a voice that believes Britain is open, tolerant and united. Millions of people want to be heard, and a clear voice saying Britain must stay in the heart of Europe. This voice is the Liberal Democrats.
“Labour do not offer that any more, they are Theresa May’s cheerleaders.
“Money is not the full picture here: we have had a famous by-election victory in Richmond Park, made 30 council gains up and down the country, and have our highest membership this century. Whatever is going on in Jeremy Corbyn’s divided and extreme Labour Party, it is clear the Liberal Democrat fightback is on, providing the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government.”
As private donations to Labour have dried up (a trend which began under Ed Miliband), Corbyn’s party has become ever more dependent on union funding. It received £1.2m from four unions (Unite, GMB, USDAW and CWU) but just £291,879 from its five largest individual backers. Labour’s decision to back Brexit has hindered new fundraising opportunities (though the party is debt-free for the first time in a decade after a surge in membership).
The unions’ dominance adds significance to the Unite general secretary election, in which Labour rebels are backing Gerard Coyne to beat Len McCluskey. But as I wrote yesterday, the party’s largest affiliate and donor is set to remain in the left’s hands.