16 May 2013

A Step Change in Election Funding

I received an email reminder today after the pre-election national appeal. It advised that we were still short of the £45,000 fundraising target and that “The Green Party Executive is meeting in just two days to review the income from the appeal and what we can do”. Some people will donate nationally, while others prefer to do it regionally or locally, but funding is the lifeblood of our party at all levels. I’m therefore returning to one of the key ideas I raised during my leadership bid last summer and I’ll be emailing members of GPEx these thoughts.

Fundraising is absolutely crucial to the party. It is something we have got better at in the last few years, but we are still drawing heavily on the tried and tested “ask the members for more money” method to raise finance. A lot of effort ends up being expended to try and raise the money needed for us to campaign. As we approach the European Elections, we should be able to raise our game in terms of ethical sponsorship and public support, but once again we’ll be fighting two elections in 2014 and 2015 on the basis of the amount of money we can raise, rather than it being based on the amount of money that we need.

It is time for us to be more ambitious about our potential for electoral success, and to put our money where our mouth is. If we fall short of a £45,000 target and we make cuts in crucial spending, then we are taking an incredibly short term approach. It is the kind of view we criticise all the other parties for in relation to Climate Change, yet if we want to be part of the solution we must achieve electoral success.

The following bullet points are taken from the Green Party’s 2010 General Election Manifesto:

• Invest in the green economy now – and if, in certain vital sectors such as energy generation, the private sector is acting too slowly and on an insufficient scale, then the Government must take the lead.

• Our programme has to be paid for, and we accept that the Government borrowing of 12% of GDP is unsustainable. Like the Government, we would aim to more than halve the deficit by 2013, and the programme of taxation and spending in this manifesto is designed to achieve that.

• Raise taxation from its current very low level of only 36% of GDP – for example it exceeded 40% in all Mrs Thatcher’s years in office. The fiscal gap is not caused by too much public spending but by taxation dropping to unacceptably low levels.

• Ensure that those most able to pay bear their fair share, and introduce a much-needed increase in environmental taxation

The urgency of our political message and the need for Green success in elections is such that I think it is possible to argue the following:

• Invest in the Green Party’s European and General election campaigns now – in certain vital sectors such as media capacity nationally and regionally, and if regions don’t have sufficient resources for a needs led campaign, for the national party to step in to support them

• The campaigns have to be paid for, and we accept that there is such a thing as unsustainable borrowing but recognise that there are peaks and troughs of national electoral activity with 2014/15 our peak. During peak activity we should be prepared to borrow and during the intermediate periods we should run a surplus.

• Consider whether we need to raise membership fees, particularly for the higher paid members of the party. Our “fiscal spending” could be helped by a boost in membership fees.

• Ensure that those most able to pay bear their fair share, and definitely increase membership fees for the higher income groups within the party while holding the basic £10 fee at the same level

We don’t have to look very far for an example of this being a successful approach. UKIP had donations of £74,150 in Quarter 1 of 2013 (compared to the Greens £23,110) but were willing to spend £200,000 on a poster campaign in the local elections during April.

So what would be a realistic level of borrowing for 2014/15 and what could it help us achieve? If we look at our income (using the Electoral Commission website information), there are observable peaks in 2004/05 and 2009/10. Although income falls after each peak in the cycle, increased membership and momentum sees it climb back up again.

The Conservatives owe about 25% of their annual income, Labour about 20% and the Liberal Democrats about 15%. In Green Party terms that would be somewhere between £100,000 to £200,000 as an overdraft / borrowing to fund the Euros and the General Election campaign depending on our likely income this year.

So if you were to ask the four regional parties who were within 1.3% of winning a Euro seat last time if £25,000 over the next 12 months would help us make the breakthrough this time, what do you think the answer would be? If you spoke to Caroline Lucas and the campaign team in Brighton Pavilion and said that they would have an additional £50,000 per year to spend in 2013/14 and 2014/15 I’m sure they would be equally as enthusiastic.

As Greens we have been over cautious about budgets, and as a member of GPEx from 2004 to 2007 we struggled to claw back a £40,000 overspend from 2003/04 over a period of three years. However we managed it successfully at a time when the party was substantially smaller (around 5,000 members at the start of 2004). A larger membership and income means the borrowing I am proposing here is proportionally far smaller.

I’m also very aware that we are a party that prides itself on fairness and fair treatment. London and the South East may feel they also deserve that funding, and would be right to make that argument, but the fact is that both of these regions have already elected MEPs and have successfully re-elected them on two occasions already. It is a political decision for GPEx but I would argue strongly that we must break out of being a south east dominated party.

So do we continue with “business as usual”, where regions struggle to finance the campaign basics, like a freepost, and not really succeed in doing much else, or rely on the success of ongoing appeals before making snap spending decisions, or do we make a bold decision to get more Greens elected?

Will our children and grandchildren commend us for balancing the budget and prudence in the year we passed 400ppm in the atmosphere and summer Arctic Sea Ice again dropped to another all time low?

Or will they applaud a bold decision to invest for the future, where our actions matched our own bold manifesto promises, and we elected enough Greens to make a difference to their future?

GPEx have some tough decisions to make and in the coming meeting. In the GPEx Elections it is really important for people to decide whether they will support this key proposal. What side of history are we going to be on?

No comments: