Labour expects to spend less than half as much as Tories on general election

Rajeev Syal
The difference in spending may not necessarily work against Labour, party officials insist, because Jeremy Corbyn is happy to portray himself as the down-to-earth leader against the slick Tory party machine. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Labour is expecting to spend less than half as much as the Tories on the general election campaign amid a drive for money donations from its 500,000 members.

Insiders said Labour had already raised around £3.8m for a possible poll when Theresa May announced a snap election two weeks ago. The party added that it had since received £1m in small donations.

Fundraising efforts will continue among union backers and its members. Officials hope this will bring at least another £3m. But private donations from wealthy figures have failed to materialise, Labour insiders said.

The Conservatives consistently spend close to the £19m general election spending limit, and are currently in the middle of a spending drive among their wealthy donors.

One Labour insider said their party would probably raise £7m in total, £5m less than in the 2015 general election under Ed Miliband.

“We are going to be outspent. Even if we had got to 2020, we would have been outspent. It is a reality of life now that the Tories can raise much more money at short notice for a short campaign,” a source said.

The difference in spending may not necessarily work against the party, Labour officials insist, because Jeremy Corbyn is happy to portray himself as the down-to-earth leader against the slick Tory party machine.

“Jeremy is going to be more comfortable in a town hall and a second class seat rather than in a hotel room or a helicopter,” the source said.

Whether for branding or financial reasons, Labour’s party political broadcasts will have production values far removed from the mini-movies it used to portray Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

There may also be fewer Labour billboards than in recent campaigns and less paid-for targeted marketing through social media compared with the Conservatives.

Political parties are able to spend £30,000 for every seat they contest during the regulated period. Labour is expected to contest almost all 650 seats.

At the centre of a new drive to raise cash is Diana Holland, the assistant general secretary of Unite who is also Labour treasurer as well as chairing the business board on the party’s national executive committee. She works closely with Iain McNicol, the general secretary of the party, to coordinate cash raising efforts.

Labour’s membership has grown exponentially under Corbyn to more than 500,000. Their fees have helped to pay off a historical debt. Nonetheless, it is probable that Labour campaign will be its most frugal for a general election since the Electoral Commission began covering spending in 2001.

Labour under Miliband spent £12.2m on the short campaign in 2015, compared with £8m under Brown in 2010. In 2005, Blair’s last general election campaign, it spent £17.9m.

Questions remain about how much the trade unions will donate for this election. General secretaries are preparing for the introduction of restrictions next year on political funds introduced under the Trade Union Act 2016. One official said anticipation of the new rules could lead to a “chilling effect” upon any planned payments to Labour this year.

Since Blair left office in 2007, the party has become less reliant upon wealthy individual donors and more reliant upon union funds. One former donor, Michael Foster, has pledged to stand against Corbyn in the leader’s Islington North constituency for driving the party towards “annihilation”.

Labour has not responded to a request for comment.

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