Did ya hear the one about the local political party that returns three MPs to Westminster and has run the city council for most of the last 30 years but doesn’t present any public accounts?
You have now. It’s Bristol’s confusing Labour Party. This party, that dominates political life in this city, appears to provide no coherent financial information whatsoever to the electorate on how it might be operating its finances.
Since 2001 political parties have been required to present financial information to the Electoral Commission on any section of their party (“accounting units” in the jargon) that has an income of over £25,000pa.
So what d’ya know? None of the 43(!!!) sections of Bristol’s Labour Party handling cash that we’ve so far discovered has ever had an income of over £25,000pa since 2001! Fancy that.
This state of affairs should stretch your credulity a little when you consider the party, in this period, has fought two general elections, six local elections and a Euro election in 2004 plus of course it has had to administrate itself, run a network of constituency parties, ward parties and quite a few city-wide party groupings plus maintain regular contact with the electorate.
You might find it especially extraordinary that Labour’s Bristol West Constituency Party, in a marginal constituency where tough and expensive election campaigns on behalf of its former-MP Valerie Davey have been fought, has never, apparently, exceeded this limit.
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that our local Labour Party’s funding and financial arrangements are so opaque, complex and impenetrably interlinked that they make no sense at all?
A brief look at Bristol Labour’s local election expenditure this year reveals that their funds are spent through a sprawling, incomprehensible and confused network of organisations – all unincorporated associations no doubt! – labeling themselves in various ways as ‘the Labour Party’.
This network starts at the ward level where we find each of the city’s 35 wards has a local Labour group spending money at election times. Then you find more Labour organisations operating at citywide level. So far we’ve discovered ‘the Bristol Labour Party’; ‘the Bristol Labour Group; ‘the Labour Group of Bristol City Council’ and ‘the Bristol Local Government Committee’ all apparently engaged in some form of fundraising and party political spending activity.
There’s also, of course, Constituency Labour Parties for Bristol North West, Bristol South, Bristol East and Bristol West. Again, they’re all spending on elections and are possibly in receipt of donations and fundraising income. Grafted on to these constituency parties – somehow – are also the well-resourced and staffed MPs’ constituency offices where appropriate.
As if this network weren’t confusing enough, you then find that these different organisations appear to be cross-subsidising each other. At the last local elections Labour candidates were generally funded by a combination of their ward level group, their local constituency party and ‘The Bristol Labour Party’. All these groups individually were therefore conveniently spending less than the Electoral Commission’s £25k limit in a year.
A cynic might say that the purpose of such a ludicrously complex network of groups – all sharing the same members – is to avoid financial declarations to the Electoral Commission and the public. So much for Labour’s “transparent and open” regime in Bristol then.
Indeed, if there’s anyone out there looking to launder some money you should try joining the local Labour Party and get yourself a position as a Treasurer or Secretary on one of these 43 separate organisations they’re running. How the hell could they properly monitor what you were up to?
Anyone with any idea how Bristol Labour’s finances actually work is welcome to get in touch.
Note: the beginning of our search into Labour’s election expenditure this year reveals that the Bristol North West Constituency Labour Party, the recipient of a generous £10k donation from ‘the Bristol Labour Group’, spent no money at all on these elections. We continue to dig . . .