Following the loans affair, the Labour Party has now published what it has taken in loans. It makes pretty grim reading – the Party is now £23.4 m in debt; £1.5 m of it has been called in and is now repayable within months; £17 m will have to be repaid by the end of next year.
The whole affair of slightly shady business men stumping up loans to secretly finance the last election campaign leaves a bad taste. It only serves to drive away people from getting involved in the Party, which itself is a vicious circle. With less activists, we become more reliant for a funding base on big donors and more reliant on money as we have less activists.
Renewing the Party is the only way to solve our problems. It’s fairly clear that the old labour dream of a flood of new union money to displace the donors isn’t going to come true. Neither is it a viable for the Party to scale down high expense campaigns for upcoming elections. The answer is to re-energise the party, bring in new members and get the ones already in more involved.
One obvious model is that of Howard Dean in his primary race. The fact that he didn’t win is neither here nor there. He managed to energise Democrats and bring in huge amounts of money in small donations. That money didn’t all just come because he had a snappy website. It came because of the small Dean events and meet ups that took place. It came because people felt that they had a stake in the campaign.
That is why democracy in the party is not just a question of people who are unhappy about policy x or policy y having their say. A genuinely democratic party that gives the members a real voice would help people feel that they are part of something worth bothering with again. That would bring in new money and help get enthusiastic volunteers for the tough campaigns ahead. That is how we get out of the money vicious cycle and start to fight back against Cameron’s Tory machine.