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How do you beat a rival 70 times richer than you? Inside Labour's cash-strapped campaign

For every pound donated to Labour, someone handed the Tories £70. 

In the first two weeks of the general election campaign, the Conservatives raised £4,388,000 in individual donations. The Lib Dems raised £340,000, and Labour raised £61,300. In other words, for every pound donated to Labour, someone handed the Tories £70.

That funding gap means that despite Labour's strong campaign, individual candidates are operating on a shoe string. The snap election has given them little time to prepare, even in terms of gathering basic equipment, and raising the money to pay for campaigning materials. 

“A lot of candidates won’t have any premises, won’t have anywhere to put their campaign,” a former Labour candidate told me. “They will need to buy a printer, have some where to put the printer.” Leaflets alone can cost a campaign thousands of pounds – forcing candidates to cut back on other costs. “I have known people run campaigns out of basements and spare rooms,” the former candidate added.

An email to members signed by Jeremy Corbyn on 1 June declared the party needed “£500,000 before polling day”. Begging tactics aside, Labour’s coffers are empty. Campaign funding insiders say money that would be thrown at prospective MPs in previous elections is being diverted to incumbents instead.

One of the problems for Labour is that its local branches tend to build up their war chests slowly, through monthly fundraising events and a trickle of donations. “This snap election has been particularly unusual,” Ashley Dalton, the Labour candidate for Rochford and Southend East told me.  “It is not just a general election all of a sudden - it is general election two years after a general election, in between which we had the EU referendum. We spent money on that as well.” 

Necessity has forced Labour candidates to embrace innovation. Dalton expected to spend £2,000 on campaign materials alone, but there was only £670 left in the pot. She turned to crowdfunding instead, and has raised more than £1,600, including donations as large as £100. Still, her campaign is modest compared to her Conservative rival: “He’s got a car with his face on it.”

Labour candidates can expect a small portion of funding from HQ, and if they’re lucky, support from a union, but otherwise they are on their own. Campaign funding platforms have stepped into the vacuum. Crowdpac matches potential individual donors with likeminded candidates – the Labour incumbent Peter Kyle is among those listed on the site. 

Another force for the first time in 2017 is More United, a movement to elect “progressive” MPs, which raises money from its members and then spends it on the campaigns of selected MPs. In the first four weeks of the general election campaign, it gave away £216,000 to 44 candidates from five parties, roughly half of which went to Labour candidates. 

More United chief executive Bess Mayhew told me: “We can change the outcome for many candidates in key seats this election.” She added: “We have supporters, we have money and we are giving people the power to change politics on a massive scale.”

Amna Ahmad, the Lib Dem candidate for Sutton and Cheam, received funding from More United. Such funding is particularly important for challenger candidates, she argued, because unlike incumbents they have no salary to sustain them. “I am a volunteer,” she said. “I had to give up my job [to campaign]. I am happy to do it, but if people are unable to pay their rent for a month or two and we want different people to get involved in politics, I think More United makes a difference. It makes a difference to know you’re funded.”

Ahmad is using some of the money she has received to spend on digital advertising on Facebook and Instagram.  As this suggests, while technology has paved the way for crowdfunding, it is also opening up new forms of spending. The challenge for candidates hoping to unseat the cash-rich Conservatives may become more acute, not less. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.