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Will Starmer’s plan to replace members with money even work?

It seems simple: get the big money men and women to finance a Labour Party that represents them and their business interests, just like Blair. The problem is, writes SOLOMON HUGHES, that Blair won elections — Starmer does not

HOW is Starmer’s plan to replace members with multimillionaires going? In July the Times reported: “Keir Starmer seeks billionaire cash as Labour struggless to pay staff.” Starmer’s strategy to move rightwards from the leftish-sounding “10 pledges” he made to get elected Labour leader has a cost.

Under Corbyn, Labour again became a mass membership party — and all those subscriptions made the party’s finances healthy. Starmer trying to shift the party much further right than he promised has chased many members away, so the party is running low on cash. There is an alternative: the New Labour model that relies on Labour-leaning millionaire donors to fill the gap.

An advantage for Starmer is that these millionaires positively want Labour to abandon any establishment-challenging policies, because they are part of the establishment. So you get the cash in return for running a bland unchallenging party — which seems to play to Starmer’s strengths.

However, there is a glitch in the machine. All the Labour supporting “high net worth individuals” only really start coughing up the cash if they think the party is close to winning an election. There is no point in spending their cash to support a neutralised Labour Party if it isn’t anywhere near government — it would be neutralising something that is already neutralised.

And in these polarised times, a bland unchallenging Labour Party can’t get voters excited enough to get it anywhere near government.

So the “billionaire cash” isn’t really coming (even as the members are going). The latest return from the Electoral Commission has barely any big money Labour donors.

There is one glimmer of hope: Fran Perrin gave £250k. Perrin, aka Francesca Elizabeth Sainsbury Perrin, is the daughter of Lord Sainsbury. He was the billionaire who funded first the anti-Labour Social Democrat Party in the 1980s and then put a lot of money behind Blair’s New Labour.

Sainsbury’s life went something like this: Eton — Cambridge — job in the family supermarket — inherited billions. So he was unsurprisingly against Labour actually challenging power, wealth and privilege, or giving any real power to the kind of low-paid people who stocked the shelves of the family business. His daughter Fran has of course also inherited billions, but has tended to put that money into philanthropy rather than politics.

However, she still has shown where her politics lie. In one of her few, small political donations before this year, Fran Perrin gave £3,000 to the Stella Creasy for Deputy Leader campaign. Creasy was perceived as to the right of the eventual winner of that campaign, Tom Watson, which is saying something. She is certainly a way to the right of the current Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner — or at least, how Angela Rayner would like to be perceived.

Creasy’s memorable political interventions include arguing in 2010 that Labour should have a “zero-budget” spending review. Creasy argued that “in the next spending review absolutely everything should be on the table,” with the possibility of cutting any spending because “wasting money is not progressive. When the poorest people in our country pay the most tax, the value for money agenda is a progressive agenda.”

The possibility of shifting tax onto the richest — people like the Perrins — did not seem to come up. Creasy is also famous for arguing in a highly sympathetic 2019 interview “I wouldn’t have a manifesto, I’d have a set of five ambitions because you can’t do everything.”

Perrin made her £250,000 donation to Labour in May. It was reported by the Electoral Commission in August. Since then Perrin seems to have developed new enthusiasm for Labour, giving £20,000 to Wes Streeting to run his shadow secretary of state for child poverty office.

Streeting, like Creasy, is on the Blairite right of the party. While Streeting is some way to the right of how Starmer presented himself in the 2020 Labour leadership election, the millionaire money and Starmer’s own behaviour suggests that is where the party is heading — if the members let it.

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