A Labour MP’s suggestion makes clear the depth of the party’s cash crisisby Jay Elwes / January 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
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John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, has resurrected the idea of a mansion tax. Like Ed Miliband before him, Mann wants those who live in expensive properties to pay a little more for the benefit of others. But what makes this Mansion Tax—or perhaps, “Mannsion tax”—different is that this one will apply only to Labour Party members.
Mann proposes that the membership fee to join the Labour Party should rise to £1,000 for anyone who owns a house worth in excess of £1m. It’s an extraordinarily provocative suggestion, one that gets right to the heart of a very uncomfortable divide that exists within the party between metropolitan London Labour (recently referred to by a Labour peer as the “croissant eaters”), and the Labour Party in the rest of the country. Many London MPs and senior party figures live in some embarrassingly wealthy areas. Mann’s suggestion is effectively a call for a tax on London Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party and resident of Islington, is firmly of the croissant camp—as is Seamus Milne, his most senior advisor (lives in Richmond). Other members of his inner circle, such as Emily Thornberry, MP for the Islington constituency next to Corbyn’s, and Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, would also qualify for the tax.
But there is a deeper and more worrying issue than the social composition of the party—Labour is losing money. Donations from individuals in the third quarter of 2015, the most recent period for which data is available, were down to around £94,000. For a party of Labour’s size that’s a trickle. By comparison, private donations in the previous quarter were £250,000. That period included the General Election and so the high figure is to be expected. But the extent of the drop-off is unusual and of great concern, especially as the Government plans to reduce the amount of so-called Short Money that is paid from the state’s coffers to opposition parties. Labour stands to lose out from that change.
It is no surprise that private donations have dropped off in this way. Since the 1990s, Labour has received huge financial support from business, industry and finance. But Corbyn and his inner circle are deeply suspicious of, if not hostile to, business, a world that is alien to Corbyn and his acolytes. Ed Miliband’s lack of experience in the real world was to a certain extent offset by the economic smarts of his core team, especially those of Ed Balls. Corbyn has no such feel for the private sector.
A spokesman in Mann’s office said that he intends to table a motion at conference urging the new “Mannsion Tax,” and that he is writing to Trade Unions to assess the level of support for the idea. His suggestion will no doubt get under the skin of Labour’s current leadership.
But if the party, already unelectable, adds insolvency to its list of woes, then Labour could face not only electoral defeat but a longer-term collapse in its ability to function.