Labour almost matches Tories in donations after £5m union boost

Ed Miliband at the Road to Copenhagen launch

Labour is catching up with the Conservatives in terms of donations before the election, after Ed Miliband’s campaign was bolstered by a large financial injection from trade unions.

Electoral Commission data on large donations shows that the Tories took in £8m in the last quarter of 2014, mostly from wealthy business figures, and Labour got more than £7m, predominantly from the unions. Across the whole year, Labour raised £26m compared with the Conservatives’ £29m.

Labour also raised £3.7m from smaller donations, compared to the Conservatives drumming up £1.5m, and additionally received £6.6m in public grants to make up for the fact it is not a party of government.

The union funds amounting to £5m in the last quarter helped Labour to narrow the donations gap to the Conservatives, who raised much more money than the opposition earlier in the year. The biggest donations for Miliband came from Unite, the GMB and Unison, which each gave £1m.

However, Miliband’s team received only £1.3m in large private donations, of which almost £400,000 was in staff costs from accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The party has previously been criticised by Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the Commons public accounts committee, for taking money from a company that engages in “nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale”.

Asked about the donation, the party pointed out the Conservatives took similar help from PwC when in opposition. A Labour spokesman said: “Given the complexity of government decisions in areas such as tax policy - and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants - the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy.”

The biggest Conservative donors were Michael Gooley, the founder of the travel company Trailfinders, who gave £500,000; Lord Glendonbrook, the former owner of BMI, who gave £334,000; and David Rowland, a former tax exile who made a fortune in property, who gave £322,000.

A large chunk of their money - around £2m - came from hedge fund bosses, whose industry received a £145m tax break in the 2013 budget.

Three of the donors, Georg Von Opel, Edward Lee and Anwar Pervez were named by the Guardian last week as past account holders at the Swiss branch of HSBC. Being a client of a Swiss bank is not illegal and does not prove tax avoidance or evasion and there is no suggestion that any of the individual donors did anything unlawful.

The figures also confirmed that Ukip was given more than £300,000 from the company of the Daily Express owner, Richard Desmond. The party also registered more than £600,000 from the former Tory donor Arron Banks and his company, after he pledged £1m. Around £400,000 of this appears to have been in the form of non-cash “consultancy services”.

Labour MP Jon Trickett said the donations showed Ukip was being funded by wealthy businessmen, including many former Conservatives, just like Cameron’s party.

“Nigel Farage is bankrolled by the very people who keep David Cameron in business. Ukip are a party of Tory money, Tory policy and Tory people,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats raised £3m in the quarter, which appears to be better than expected. In particular, they were boosted by a surprise £400,000 donation as a bequest from a party member, Max Batley.

The Greens received a £100,000 donation from the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, taking their total to just under £250,000.

The eight biggest political parties together received more than £20m over the three months, compared with £17m raised in the same period before the last election.

The latest regular release of donation information comes amid a bitter political row about the tax affairs of party supporters, with Miliband having accused David Cameron of being a “dodgy prime minister surrounded by dodgy donors”.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 19th February 2015 17.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010