First published by LabourList
I love the Labour party. I enjoy canvassing, I pay my subs, go to the various fundraising dinners and vote in National Executive Committee (NEC) elections. I, like many, hate the constant barrage of ‘please donate’ emails and fear the dreaded fundraising call. And if I feel like that, imagine the dread felt by a candidate when they receive such a call. Don’t believe that happens?
Hard to believe as it is, on more than one occasion now I have heard of target seats candidates getting direct calls from the party asking for money. There are terrible stories of candidates being required to be at events in London to raise vital and substantial funds for the party but having to pay their own travel from as far away as Scotland and the North East. Many candidates are expected to go to the dinners of neighbouring candidates, even those of existing members of parliament.
All of this comes on top of candidates who personally fund their own campaigns and give up full-time employment. One candidate, I hear, has sold their house and is living off the capital, hoping beyond hope that they win next May!
I have written before that I think our time-intensive and costly selection processes are one of the main reasons stopping more diverse and working-class candidates standing. But we should not forget that the momentous task we ask of candidates after their selection is a huge and contributing factor. The additional and personal burden of the costs weighs heavy.
As the arms race in campaigns continues and the pool of available donors feels over fished, it often comes down to candidates to go the extra mile. Lisa Forbes, our candidate in Peterborough, put this in personal terms. By definition not everyone can make this appeal and neither should they have to. The newly elected NEC should meet to address this. And the outgoing NEC should act immediately to help the cost of living of our candidates. It baffles me that we ask the 106-target seat candidates to pay for their conference pass. Many of them need to be there to get press coverage in their local paper, recruit volunteers, raise their profile and champion the causes their party members selected them to pursue. The costs of accommodation, food and travel are colossal as it is. Giving candidates back the £109 would be an act of goodwill. Every penny would go back into local campaigns and help our candidates keep their financial heads above water.
More importantly, the Labour party needs a sea-change in its thinking. Instead of asking for more money from our candidates it should accept that they are our biggest donors. Everyone standing in the 106-target list and Labour-held seat should be given Thousand Club membership immediately. This would not only show we recognise their great sacrifice, it will help the candidate raise more money for their campaigns. Those in the Thousand Club, prepared to give additional donations, are more likely do to if they meet the candidates these funds are going to help.
Candidates are doing us proud across the country. We need to join them on the doorstep and go the extra mile to engage the voters. But to do this, the party must do all it can to ease their financial burden and show it recognises there is a marathon still to run.
Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress