Party asks its members to stump up for deficit

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Indy Politics

Rank-and-file Labour members were asked yesterday to dig into their pockets to stop a shortfall in revenue from dragging the party into debt.

Rank-and-file Labour members were asked yesterday to dig into their pockets to stop a shortfall in revenue from dragging the party into debt.

Senior party figures called on union leaders to agree new long-term financial deals with the party to stop its finances rising and falling "like a Blackpool big dipper" as members were asked to approve substantial increases in their subscriptions.

Tony Blair led calls from the party leadership for a rejuvenation of Labour's grass roots, promising "renewal of our membership base" which has fallen to 270,000 from a peak of 410,000 in 1997.

His call came as Jimmy Elsby, the party treasurer, warned income had fallen below expectations. Accounts for 2001 show the party had an operating deficit of £9m last year.

Some delegates expressed anger at a proposed increase in subscription rates, including lifting the annual price for the unwaged from £7 to £12. The results of card votes on the issue will be announced today.

The party will announce a series of pilot schemes within weeks to encourage local constituency parties to co-operate with each other to increase membership, while officials are planning a drive to encourage members to keep up their subscriptions, through monthly payments by direct debit.

The moves come after union leaders rebuffed attempts to negotiate a funding agreement with the party stretching to 2006.

David Triesman, the party's general secretary, urged the unions to agree a deal to provide long-term funding and attacked members "bending the rules" by paying reduced subscription rates. "We can't run and manage something with the finances going up and down like a Blackpool big dipper," he told delegates. But he warned unions hoping to influence policy: "You cannot buy policy from our Government. You cannot buy favours on that basis."

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