Throughout the Labour leadership race, Sir Keir Starmer refused to reveal his financial backers. Now that the new leader’s list of donors has finally come to light, it’s clear to see why.
The litany of pro-establishment and anti-Corbyn figures who funded his leadership run doesn’t exactly chime with the “commitment to socialism” and “unity” Starmer promised during the campaign. The agents of the ruling class see Starmer as their man: literally bought and paid for.
Follow the money...
Starmer previously gave the excuse that any large donations to his leadership campaign were already public record, in compliance with parliamentary rules.
But a handy loophole allows MPs with deep personal pockets to delay accepting donations, self-finance their own campaigns, then reimburse themselves later on. This means Starmer could wait up to 58 days before officially registering any large donations: well after the election was over.
Under Labour’s internal rules, meanwhile, Starmer faced no obligation to publish this information until early June, with a donations cap of around half a million pounds, excluding costs on staff and premises.
It was obvious to everyone that Starmer’s campaign was flush, however. For example, in February, a snazzy campaign poster was dropped into the letter box of every single Labour member. This would have cost an estimated £300,000 according to Rebecca Long-Bailey’s communications director Matt Zarb-Cousin. This is far more than the amount officially acknowledged by Starmer’s campaign website at the time.
It is rather ironic that secretive donations were used to print off hundreds of thousands of posters emblazoned with the slogan: “integrity, authority, unity”. It seems all three of these virtues can be bought for the right price.
Top ten donors
And who footed the bill? One of the most generous backers was media mogul and ASOS chair Waheed Alli, who threw in £100,000.
A close friend of Tony Blair (who gave him a peerage in 1998), Alli had formerly donated to Liz Kendall in 2015, and to Angela Eagle when she challenged Corbyn’s leadership in 2016. He was also among the 64 Labour peers who signed a venomous advert in the Guardian accusing Corbyn of “allowing antisemitism to grow in our party”.
Media mogul & chair of Asos, Waheed Alli gave Starmer £100,000 for his leadership bid, Alli was made a life peer by Tony Blair.— Lord Larkin #PPEforNHS💙 (@BossLarkin) April 18, 2020
Alli was one of the 67 signatories on the propaganda hit piece in the @guardian claiming Corbyn is "anti-Semitic" https://t.co/CFaTifp5MU pic.twitter.com/XVzem8G6Rp
The hedge fund manager Martin Taylor chipped in £95,000. Taylor suspended his regular six-figure donations to the party during the Corbyn years. And he made headlines for funding Blairite groupings Labour Together, Saving Labour and Labour Tomorrow in an attempt to bring the leader down.
Clive Hollick - best known for co-founding the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Blairite think tank - gave £50,000. This comes on top of previous funding for both Kendall and then Owen Smith, during the 2016 post-chicken-coup leadership race.
Another £50,000 came from Trevor Chinn, a pro-Israel lobbyist and executive committee member of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. The campaign wing of this organisation is directed by the virulently anti-Corbyn Luke Akehurst – infamous for his social media tirades against leftwingers.
Chinn also gave £60,000 to Tom Watson when he was the leader of the Blairite fifth column within Labour. And he put £25,000 down on Smith’s disastrous leadership challenge.
Betting shop magnate and longtime Blairite financier Peter Coates also staked £25,000 on Starmer. Coates announced in 2016 that he would no longer finance a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Instead, he stated that he would focus on “direct personal donations to fund the work of [MPs] whose centrist views are more aligned to his own”. It seems he has continued in this form.
AA Finance Director and Progress member Martin Clarke coughed up £25,000 to Starmer’s campaign. Clarke was previously one of the main architects of the stillborn ‘centre-ground’ party, Change UK.
Bankrolled by the right
The Starmer-supporting unions UNISON, Community and USDAW contributed about £80,000 collectively. All three have right-wing leaderships. The only other big donation that Starmer disclosed in a timely manner was £100,000 from fellow lawyer and Holborn & St. Pancras CLP member Bob Latham.
The remaining list of substantial donors - ranging from a few grand to tens of thousands of pounds - include the Managing Director of the Canary Wharf Group; the boss of a major pensions and investment firm; and a private energy company.
In sum, eight wealthy people contributed a total of £455,000 to Starmer’s war chest, out of a total declared of £536,000.
By contrast, most donations for left-wing candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey (revealed in full during the race) came from mass-membership organisations Unite, CWU and Momentum. She didn’t get a single large donation from a rich businessperson.
Starmer’s campaign exploited the rules to conceal the fact that he was being pushed by anti-Corbyn millionaires. This contradicts his platitudes about maintaining his predecessor's left-wing programme, while also uniting the party. In fact, he was bankrolled by the right.
This rogues’ gallery of wealthy Blairites behind Starmer’s campaign regard their contributions as an investment in getting the Labour Party back under their control. They will expect Starmer to deliver by protecting the interests of big business, keeping Labour’s membership at bay, and not rocking the boat.
Accordingly, Starmer did not use his first PMQs against Dominic Raab to grill the Tories for causing thousands of needless deaths through callous complacency during a deadly pandemic. Instead, he sounded like a mildly-disappointed schoolteacher chiding an underperforming student. He just wants the government to apply itself and do better!
Gushing appraisals were soon flooding in from right-wing and liberal journalists about Starmer’s “forensic” debut. “After today’s exchanges at PMQs it is clear the United Kingdom has a functioning, probing, measured, informed Official Opposition,” said the ‘pugilistic pundit’ Andrew Neil.
Measured, forensic and to the point. Good to see real leadership back on the front bench. #PMQs— Labour First (@labour_first) April 22, 2020
Above all, given the period of extreme crisis, the establishment wants an opposition that is safe for capitalism, not one that will challenge its fundamental failures. So far, Starmer has been paying his supporters back in full, even hinting at his willingness to prop up the Tories in a national government.
If the polls are anything to go by, this ‘constructive opposition’ isn’t doing the trick. Labour remains a country mile behind the Tories. So much for the ‘electable’ Keir Starmer!
Stay and fight
The problem is the mood in society is not ‘constructive’. Underequipped health staff and vulnerable working-class people are dying in their hundreds by the day. There is no end to the lockdown in sight, and the loss of income for working-class households is starting to pinch. The prospect of a new round of austerity is looming on the other side.
The class divide in Britain is widening. People need real solutions. And these can only come through bold socialist measures.
The Labour Party should be attacking the Tories relentlessly, presenting a programme to fight the virus, protect key workers, properly fund the NHS and make the bosses pay.
This is precisely the message offered by former deputy leadership candidate and chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, Richard Burgon:
“We need to begin now to ensure that when the bill for this crisis is accounted for, it’s paid back by the super-rich and not by those who’ve already suffered so much under a decade of austerity. We also need to be putting forward the vision for what we want our economy and wider society to look like so we are better able to handle any future crises.
“As Tony Benn famously said: ‘We’re not here just to manage capitalism – we’re here to change society.’ And with the challenges that we face in 2020, the need for this kind of fundamental socialist change is more pressing than ever."
This is how to win workers over in the face of this daunting crisis.
Starmer and his fat-cat financiers want to turn Labour into a pro-austerity party of the status quo. Left Labour members must stay and fight against any attempts to push the party back to the failed Blairite ‘centre ground’. We must show Starmer’s big business backers that our party can’t be bought – at any price.