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1 April 2020

Liberal Democrats put “nearly half” of party staff on coronavirus leave

The Conservative government will effectively subsidise the wages of an opposition party. 

By Patrick Maguire

The Liberal Democrats have put nearly half of their workforce on furlough in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Senior sources confirmed that staff across several departments at the party’s Great George Street headquarters in Westminster have been given an extended leave of absence on 80 per cent of their usual pay under the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s job retention scheme.

The move means that the government will effectively subsidise one of the opposition parties for the duration of the crisis. Those furloughed include policy advisers and campaign staff. A senior official confirmed that “approaching half” of those employed directly by the federal party would be affected. A number of local parties are also furloughing staff.

Some Liberal Democrats are decidedly uneasy about the news, warning that it undermines the party’s ability to effectively scrutinise a government with near-untrammelled power at a time when parliament cannot function normally. Others claim it raises questions over the Lib Dems’ finances. Under former leader Jo Swinson, the party raised £11m for its 2019 general election campaign, but while increasing their share of the vote, the Lib Dems finished with one fewer MPs (11) after high-profile defectors from Labour and the Conservatives fell far short in ambitious target seats.

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