The Lib Dems have had more political donations than Labour for the first time – but all is not as it seems

When you dig into the figures, the story changes 

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The Electoral Commission has released the donation figures to political parties for the final quarter of 2016 today, and it made for interesting reading.

The Lib Dems received more donations than Labour for the first time (£2,849 more, to be exact) – and this has started to raise a lot of eyebrows.

While, on the surface, it seems like a tremendous triumph for the Liberal Democrats, who have put this down to Brexit increasing their donations from individuals, looking into Labour’s donation figures tells a more interesting story.

Of course, Labour is supported by the main trade unions. However, when you examine the donations made by Unison, contributions to the Labour Party dropped by a staggering £634,000 from Q3 to Q4 in 2016.

So what’s going on here? At first, one is tempted to draw the conclusion that one of the party’s primary donors and supporters is falling out of love with Labour, possibly because of the heavily publicised infighting surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the dismal poll ratings plaguing the party (never mind the divisions which arose around the party’s approach to Brexit.)

However, the truth is a little less dramatic. Unison told me that the anomalous figure is purely down to the way in which they manage their payments – more was distributed in Q1, Q2 and Q3 than usual, so they evened it out in Q4 by distributing less money. They described the figures as “very boring”, and explained that they distribute more money for general elections, by-elections and campaigns – that’s why more money was given in 2015.

This essentially means that the Lib Dems only seem to have benefited because of Labour receiving the bulk of their annual donations in the first three quarters of the year.

A Labour spokesperson commented that it is “this broad funding base that makes us the party of ordinary working people, while our main rivals increasingly rely on a small pool of donors”.

“After all their broken promises, the Lib Dems need all the help they can get at the moment, so it’s no surprise they’re asking their past big donors to help them out of their hole.”

But that’s not the end of the story. The Liberal Democrats received £1,715,967.96 alone in individual donations compared to £579,931.13 in the same quarter of 2015 – they have more than trebled their donations from individual donors per quarter in the space of one year. That’s one hell of an achievement.

Labour’s Shami Chakrabarti blames a range of factors – except the party’s leader – for Copeland loss

Labour, on the other hand, received £307,705 in individual donations – their main bulk of money still comes from the trade unions, while the Lib Dems are capitalising on grassroots discontent and financially benefiting as a result.

Since the 2015 general election, the Lib Dems have more than doubled their membership to 84,000 – and it has been claimed that for every one Labour voter who defected to Ukip, twice as many went to the Liberal Democrats.

Monetarily, the Lib Dems still trailed behind the Labour Party in 2016, despite today’s slightly misleading figures, yet their increasing grassroots support should give Jeremy Corbyn something to worry about.

They have successfully tapped into the discontent that has flourished since the EU referendum vote, pitching themselves as the only party that will actively oppose Brexit – they are the only party calling for a second referendum on the terms of Brexit. And Jeremy Corbyn has been handing this support to them on a plate: the three-line whip he imposed on MPs during the Brexit Bill vote, the well-chorused view that Corbyn himself supported the Brexit vote (a charge he has vehemently denied on numerous occasions), and the tragic lack of coherent messaging have all made for a perfect storm.

The musical chairs manner in which the shadow cabinet seems to operate has caused unease among many on the Left – primarily because it does not provide a strong show of opposition to the Government.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have positioned themselves as the only party sitting in the centre who will stand up for Remainers – with approximately 63 per cent of Labour voters opting to remain in the European Union, it is no surprise that the Lib Dems are hoovering up Labour’s traditional support base.

A Labour source told me today: “In Stoke, we stopped Ukip and their politics of hate in their tracks. The much-hyped Lib Dem surge is utterly absent in the polls.”

But it would be unwise for Labour to underestimate the creeping power of Tim Farron’s party – if Labour do not proceed with caution, they may very well find themselves sitting back and watching as their voters flood back to the centre ground. The Lib Dems have a long way to go before this happens, but slow and steady could conceivably win the race. 

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