The Conservatives banked more money from donations than all the other political parties put together, the latest Electoral Commission figures showed as David Cameron was accused of mounting a partisan attack on Labour’s main source of income.
The Tories were given £15.4m of the £30.6m received by the parties in the first three months of this year compared with £9.33m collected by Labour and £3m given to the Liberal Democrats. The Scottish National Party was given £1.05m and Ukip just under £1m.
The figures emerged as Labour braces itself for the loss of several million pounds a year following changes to trade union funding announced in this week’s Queen’s Speech.
New legislation will require union members to “opt in” to its political fund rather than the current system of automatic enrolment unless they explicitly opt out.
Labour receives a significant proportion of its income from political funds and the move could cost the party heavily.
Nearly two-thirds of Labour’s donations in the first quarter of 2015 came from unions, including £3.5m from Unite, £700,000 from the GMB and £570,000 from Unison.
Jonathan Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University, said loss of revenue from the unions could be “catastrophic” for Labour. He said the party relied on the unions for at least 80 per cent of its funding in election years, and added: “It’s that stark – Labour could not afford to lose its link with the unions.”
Labour has shaken up its rules to phase in, between 2014 and 2019, a similar “opt in” system for union members to affiliate to the party – a move it says it has taken in the interests of transparency, and this is an internal party change instead of legislation.
Lord Falconer, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: “The Conservative Party is still reliant on a small pool of large donors, outspending other parties by millions.
“It is no wonder the Tories are focusing on partisan politics rather than engaging in meaningful reforms to our party funding system.
“The Conservatives should be focusing on what’s best for the nation as a whole, rather than launching a brazenly political attack on trade unions, who stand up for millions of working people.”
Luke Hall, the Conservative MP for Thornbury and Yate, said Labour was “more reliant than ever on the monthly cheque as a ‘kiss of life’ for its finances from [Unite leader] Len McCluskey and the union bosses.
“The public know nothing has changed in Labour. Union bosses pick the candidates, dictate the policy and choose the leader.”
The £30.6m donated to Britain’s political parties over three months is the highest total on record, and is more than 50 per cent higher than the amount handed over in the equivalent period ahead of the 2010 election campaign.
Katie Ghose, the chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said the figures underlined the need for “urgent political reform of the party funding system”. She added: “We can’t continue to have a race to spend the most, with parties increasingly relying on a small number of powerful wealthy backers – whether that’s big organisations or rich individuals.”
Biggest donations: First quarter 2015
Unite (£3,538,512, Labour) Represented 38 per cent of Labour’s income from gifts.
GMB (£696,680, Labour) Accused the Tories of “shackling the bodies that have funded the political opposition to them for more than a century”.
John Griffin (£661,250, Conservatives) Founder of Addison Lee minicabs also gave £500,000 in previous two years.
Unison (£571,563, Labour) Its leader, Dave Prentis, called the election the most important in a generation.
Michael Gooley (£500,000, Conservatives) Founder of travel agent Trailfinders has given £1.5m in under a year.
Christine and Colin Weir (£500,000 each, the SNP) Have given the SNP more than £4m since scooping the £161m Eurolottery jackpot.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies