Labour’s Currency Problem

4 02 2015

Inspired by a tweet earlier today from The Herald’s David Leask, and a favourite blogpost of mine from Michael Crick dealing with similar issues for the LibDems a few years’ back, here’s my latest dizzying spin into the world of arithmetic and party funding…

Obviously the Ashcroft polls have concentrated a few minds around the Scottish political scene.  Whilst anyone I speak to within the SNP (and outwith, for that matter) can’t really take them too seriously and aren’t taking their feet off the pedals one millimetre over the next three months, there’s no doubt the sheer precipice that Labour in Scotland are looking down towards was brought into clear, crystal, stark vision for Murph and the Magictones and their fellow denizens within Starship McTernan.

Quite aside from the obvious political implications afoot, there’s a longer term infrastructural issue at play – every Scottish Labour MP that takes a powerslide off the Mario Kart track that is electoral success means a financial and resource hit for the party, and a corresponding boost for the SNP.

Where they have a constituency MSP still floating around – such as in Motherwell & Wishaw, where Ashcroft has them 11% down – the office is shared with them.  In many areas it might be shared with the local Labour organisation as well; as long as the internal boundaries of the property are clearly delineated, this perfectly in order.  A defeat in one of these constituencies offers an additional blow to Labour, knocking out a party resource in the form of the office, and causing problems for the local MSP, now forced to either find new digs or take on the burden of rent, rates etc. for the year through to May 2016 (although you would really hope some contingency planning took place after 2010 & 2011).  A standalone office for local CLPs would likely mean increased running costs, and thus less to devote to leaflets, balloons (no jokes please), cardboard cut outs of giant pound coins etc, etc.  Many local Labour parties will be forced to give up their local campaign base and move to the ‘working out of a giant IKEA bag and kitchen table’ model that I know and love.

There’s also the staff.  An MP will have 3 – 4 members of staff, some full-time, some part-time, and receive £138,600 a year to employ their staff.  Whilst of course their job is support their boss in his or her parliamentary duties and casework, it seems fairly likely their employer would look sympathetically at a request to knock off early on a Tuesday afternoon and use some Time Off In Lieu in order to go off and prepare campaign activity for the following week.  That’s a resource that helps immensely when you’re up against opposition activists juggling their full-time non-political jobs around campaigning.  And longer term, for better or worse, such jobs act as an early step on the ladder up elected politics, giving folk the experience and knowledge of a constituency, getting to know to the local organisations and names, learning how politics really works outside of parliamentary chambers and TV studios.  In short, losing seats and staff restricts an apprenticeship scheme that dozens of Labour MPs have come through in the past.

Labour MPs additionally pay into something called Parliamentary Research Services, a central research pool for Labour MPs to tap into.  This comes in at £4,800 a year per MP and comes off each staffing allowance, paid directly from IPSA.  At 41 Scottish Labour MPs, that adds up to £196,800 p.a.  Or a cool million quid over a five-year parliament.  All 3 Westminster parties have similar arrangements, whether in government or not,

Opposition parties receive Short money – a Parliamentary allowance paid out to non-government parliamentary parties designed to partially make up for the fact they don’t have the access to the Civil Service that the governing parties do.  The Minister for Potato Consumption can ask her civil servants to find out how many chip shops there are in Cornwall; Short money is designed to allow opposition parties to employ staff to carry out the same functions.  It’s calculated using a combination of numbers of MPs and the number of votes received at the previous UK election.  Each MP brings £16,689.13 into the kitty, and every 200 votes gained by that party at the previous election brings in £33.33 (these numbers will go up by the RPI rate at the beginning of April, but for these purposes we’ll stick with the 2014/15 figures).

The LibDems, by the way, tried to carry on claiming Short money after entering their coalition with the Tories.  If nothing else, you have to admire the sheer brassneck involved in that particular pointless argument.

For Labour, that means £684,254.33 (41 MPs x £16,689.13) + £166,650 (1,035,528 votes/200 = 5177, rounded down to 5000 x £33.33) = £850,904.33 going towards central research funds from the Scottish Labour bloc.  Of course, a Miliband premiership resets that all to zero anyway, but it’s worth pointing out.

Labour also levy their MPs at a rate of 2% of their salary, to be paid into party coffers directly out their pocket, i.e. not from expenses [Chapter 5, Clause 2A(ii) of the Labour Party Rulebook]; other parties have similar levies at various rates.  At a salary of £67,060, that comes out at £1,341.20 each, or £54,989.20 p.a. from the 41.  It’s not clear whether this goes to local CLPs, the Scottish branch office, or London HQ, but whatever the destination, it’s still not chump change.

Of course, while I’ve put in the cash amounts for each of these income streams, it’s not cash that can just be spent on campaigning; Short money, for example, gets paid out on the strict condition it’s used for opposition research, not coming up with crappy YouTube videos.  But they all add capacity to a political and electoral machine that faces another massive test just 12 months after the Westminster election.  Whatever the relation to eventual reality the Ashcroft poll has, there can be no doubt that a Labour loss of the kind outlined by his and other polls, has big implications for Labour’s organisation – and by implication, the SNP’s – in the years ahead

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