The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June. You know that. But it sets an interesting context for the country’s political parties. It’s only been 6 months since the vote, but we’ve had a change in leadership in the Government, a challenge to the leadership in the Labour Party, utter chaos in UKIP, and a change in leadership in the Green Party too. On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission released the Q3 figures for political party donations for 2016. This shows where parties are getting their money from in the period straight after Brexit.

As ever, it still shows the stark differences that exist between the “big three” (or two) and all the others. But there are other interesting things in here too – that, aside from public funds, the Labour Party received nearly 90% of its funding from trade unions in Q3, and since the referendum, UKIP’s funding has dropped by around 97%.donations-chart-1Unsurprisingly (perhaps) Labour are the top recipients of donations with nearly £4m in income in Q3 2016. Remember, this is during just three months. The Tories received just under £3m. The Labour figure is unsurprising because they receive the most money from public funds (around £1.7m), which is mostly made up of short money from the House of Commons, as the official Opposition. Stripping out the public funds tells the real story – this is paid largely for parties to do their jobs, after all.donations-chart-2

If we do this, the even less surprising outcome is that the Tories are the highest recipients during Q3 2016. The Tories raked in nearly £3m again, with Labour on just over £2m, the Lib Dems on just over £1m, and everyone else trailing miles behind.

The scale of the financial might of the Tories, Labour and to some extent the Lib Dems is clearly on view here (though at a reduced level compared to Q2 2016, it must be said). The Lib Dems alone, perhaps continuing to benefit from a post-Brexit surge of warm-feeling towards them, received almost as much as every other party, bar the Tories and Labour, combined.

The Green Party existed on donations of just over £10,000 during this period, around 20% of that coming from the Greens’ London MEP Jean Lambert alone. Total donations are only ahead of UKIP as UKIP made the strange decision to not accept short money. Bizarrely, the BNP received more money than both the Greens and UKIP combined during Q3 – through a single donation.

UKIP are a really interesting story here. Endowed with vast wads of cash for the first 6 months of the year, they received a (comparatively) paltry £43,000 in Q3 2016. So following the referendum, it looks as though donors have fled UKIP in droves – they received £1.2m in Q2 2016. It will be a big challenge for Paul Nuttall to run the kind of operation Farage has been able to run if he doesn’t get the ridiculous amount of money UKIP were previously receiving for a tiny political party.

Another interesting insight is looking at where these donations came from, particularly the Labour Party. For the Tories and Lib Dems, the biggest two groups donating were individuals, then companies (including here both limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and ‘Friendly Societies’ – largely cooperatives, the greatest chunk being the Co-Operative Ltd). It may be unsurprising to learn that trade union funding took up the greatest proportion of Labour Party funding (after public funds). But what may be surprising is that it accounts for 88% of the party’s (non-public) funding during this period. Individuals donated just £78.000 to Labour, against £1.9m to the Tories and £765,000 to the Liberal Democrats. Companies donated just £36,000 to Labour (including, interestingly, the Canary Wharf Group) but £628,000 the Tories and £103,000 to the Lib Dems.

Labour could be raking in lots of small donations, like the Sanders and wider Democrat campaigns did in the US in recent times, but with competition from a number of sources, not least the party-within-a-party Momentum, it might not. But it looks quite worrying for them that they have all but shed big donors during this period – companies or individuals. This may be a good thing for politics, but perhaps less so when the Lib Dems and Tories are rather raking it in from these sources. Corbyn is lucky he has the trade unions on side more than ever, but they’re pretty much bankrolling the party at this point. As ever, the real question is – when will the argument for public funding of parties win over the public?

As for the smaller parties, it just shows how important individual members and small donations can be. The Green Party apparently turned down a £250,000 donation around the time of the Richmond by-election for ethical reasons. It just goes to show how much difference this kind of money could make.

N.B. This data does not include donations below a certain value (depending who it was made to), nor other income such as membership fees – so there’s more money coming in there for example from Labour’s new members – and it doesn’t include the Northern Irish parties.

It is also worth remembering that figures here are inevitably going to be comparatively lower than for earlier periods in the year, given Q1 and Q2 were in the run up to a series of elections across the UK, and the EU referendum, which will have seen companies and individuals donating big.

 

 

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Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and UKIP leader Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time last week

I usually refrain from blogging about UK party politics on here, but my allegiances are well known, so I’ll drop my own rule. And there’s a lot to talk about, especially this week.

The UK media are hyping up the UK Independence Party beyond belief ahead of the local elections this Thursday. Even if the polls turn out not to be an exact prediction of what we will wake up to on Friday morning, it’s fair to say that UKIP’s share of the vote is going to increase somewhat dramatically in this election. This is not to say they will gain many seats, I would be surprised if their total ended up near that of the Green Party by the end of this week. However the biggest indication of the effect of their vote will be the losses made by the Conservative Party, i.e. to what extent they split the right-wing vote.

This is unknown territory. Whatever we think about Labour and know to be true, the Conservative Party have been largely unopposed on the official right-wing of UK politics for decades. However faux-left wing the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have been in recent years, anyone with mild left-wing sympathies has gone to them and not the Conservatives when it came down to it inan election, especially those under First Past the Post (FPTP). More so, on the left , the Green Party has made gains in certain places and at certain times, and of course in Scotland and Wales the SNP and Plaid Cymru make things even more complicated. On the right, the BNP have only ever made fleeting inroads, and have all but imploded. A series of ramshackle right-wing parties, such as Veritas, have come and gone in quick succession but have generally failed to make an impact on the Tories’ claims to the right wing vote. UKIP’s false air of respectability, and slew of ex-Tory members and candidates has changed that. And this is significant for the left.

For too long, Labour and to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats have been able to claim most of the vote of the generally left-leaning voter to a large extent as a way to keep out the Tories. Under FPTP they have at times been able to argue that, in particular with the Green Party, a vote for the Greens is a vote for the Tories. The weakness of the system so eloquently explained by Reform Cat. If you have one party that 40% identify with, and 2 parties that 60% identify with, that one party will almost always get in under FPTP. A similar allegation, however spurious, was made with relation to the Green Party in the USA in 2000, when the Democrats’ Al Gore lost votes to Ralph Nader.

But however queasy the rise of UKIP and their divisive and discriminatory policies and candidates makes you feel, it could have a silver lining. Now there are Conservatives saying “Vote UKIP, Get Labour” (something they have, admittedly, said at times since 2004). Of course, Labour and the Lib Dems are also likely to see some of their voters drift to UKIP, but a majority of UKIP supporters are Tory supporters, as this Yougov composite poll suggests, so the gains they are likely to make will surely outweigh the losses. There are only so many real conservative voters. They are not a majority, they just benefit from people having more choice on the left, and a faulty electoral system. With the rise of another conservative party, the Tories may finally be having some real competition for once, rather than fighting over the centre ground with Labour.

So, if the UKIP rise is sustained, there can be stronger arguments for sustained support for other left wing parties, such as the Green Party. No longer can the mantra be that a Green vote splits the already split “left-wing” vote. If the Conservative Party is having to fight someone other than the centre-hugging Liberal Democrats and Labour Party for their votes, it means the Green Party can consistently challenge Labour and the Lib Dems for their voters. And it may also precipitate a lean to the left for Labour and the Lib Dems, if there are more voters to be found on the left than on the right, with the Conservatives and UKIP fighting it out. The centre ground will get muddied. There will be little benefit in hanging around there.

Whether any of this has any truth in it will depend both on what happens on Thursday, what happens in 2014 at the European elections, and then the General Election. In the mean time, it will certainly be enjoyable if we can take delight in both UKIP failing to gain many seats, and the Conservatives losing many. Anything more than that will be worrying, but it may have some knock-on benefits.