An influential Labour Party group with close links to Sir Keir Starmer is under investigation by the UK’s Electoral Commission after allegedly failing to declare over £800,000 in donations within the time required under law, Insider can reveal.
The investigation into Labour Together, which counts among its current directors’ the Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Steve Reed MP, was opened in December 2020.
Labour together claim to be a network of committed Labour Party members, supporters and politicians. Some of the MPs who are helping to co-ordinate projects include Jon Cruddas, Lisa Nandy, Steve Reed, Shabana Mahmood, Jim McMahon, Bridget Phillipson, Wes Streeting, Marsha de Cordova, Alex Norris, Thangam Debbonaire, Darren Jones, Holly Lynch, James Frith, David Lammy and Jack Dromey.
A former managing director of Labour Together is Morgan McSweeney, who is now Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff. Companies House records for the company behind Labour Together show McSweeney was secretary from July 2017 to April 2020, when Starmer became leader of the Labour Party.
The group also conducted a high-profile review into the party’s performance in the 2019 general election was published in June 2020 which was described by the New Statesman as “a blueprint for Starmerism”.
The Electoral Commission, which regulates political financing in the United Kingdom, is investigating multiple potential breaches of UK electoral law which requires donations to be reported to the Electoral Commission within 30 days of the donation being accepted.
An analysis of the figures published by the Electoral Commission shows only a small minority of donations received by Labour Together – £165,000 of the £970,492 donated – had been declared within the 30 day period, from its first donation in October 2015 to its most recent donation in January 2021.
The Electoral Commission is also investigating a potential failure to register a responsible person within 30 days of accepting a reportable donation.
Both of these potential failures would be breaches of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Figures published on the Electoral Commission website in February 2021 show 10 donations for a total of £298,992. Only one of these donations, worth £50,000, is shown to have been received by Labour Together within 30 days of it being reported. The rest range from between June 2017 and April 2019.
Figures published by the Electoral Commission in December 2020 show 19 donations for a total of £465,500. None of these donations appear to have been received in the 30 days prior to their reported date of 10th December 2020. They range from June 2018 to September 2020.
The December 2020 report was the first report of donations made by Labour Together since July 2018. A November 2017 report of donations included sums given in June and August 2017 totalling £46,000, while a £45,000 donation in June 2016 was not reported until August 2016.
Labour Together’s most significant donor to date was revield by ‘The Bureau investigative journalism website’ as Martin Taylor, who was a Mayfair hedge fund manager having then given £600,000 to the party under the leadership of Ed Miliband. Taylor has given the group over £700,000. £143,992 of Taylor’s donations were reported as being “non-cash”.
Another significant donor is the businessman Sir Trevor Chinn, who also donated £50,000 to Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign in 2020.
Chinn serves as the fourth director of Labour Together along with the Labour MP Jon Cruddas. Chinn has given the group £225,500.
There was plenty of controversy during the Leadership contest and Sir Kier Starmer’s delaying tactics in showing who his backers where.
Labour Leadership: He who pays the piper calls the tune
Campaign donors “always expect to be paid back in the end”, says Long-Bailey
During the leadership elections, Rebecca Long-Bailey stated that campaign donors “always expect to be paid back in the end”, and suggested that who funds your campaign gives an “indication of what your politics are and who’s going to be influencing you”.
She stresses she won’t attack the other candidates. “It’s wrong to be nasty about people who are within your own party. If you want to have a go with them do it in private, but don’t do it in public.” But she could not hold back at pointing to the fact that Sir Keir Starmer has not publishing all his donations from large donors, although he says what he has revealed is within the rules.
That’s the deal – screw the members, lose members, donors replace them, corruption is embedded even further, job done for Starmer https://t.co/pnW0N2xd8X— Jackie walker (@Jackiew80333500) August 9, 2020
“People want to see who donates to your campaign because it often gives an indication of what your politics are and who’s going to be influencing you in the future. Those donors always expect to be paid back in the end.”
She adds: “I’m proud that my donations have come from trade unions, Labour Party members, Momentum members who I know have supported me because we share the same political ideals.” She also teases Starmer about the large posters of him that have been mailed out to supporters. “It is a bit cheesy, isn’t it? It’s just weird because I know Keir. It’s kind of like somebody putting a picture of your brother on the wall.” She isn’t planning one for herself.
John Trickett, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said all candidates should release all records of their donations now, while voting in the contest was in its early stages.
“I’ve been campaigning against the influence of money in politics for years. Whether it’s in general elections or internal party elections, we need to end the secrecy,” he said.
“By only publishing donations via the register, candidates can self-finance in order to delay accepting donations, allowing them to publish these later on. You don’t have to officially accept a donation for 30 days and then you don’t have to declare it for another 28 days, so it can be 58 days until it’s declared on the register, which will be after the leadership election is over.
“If we’re actually serious about financial transparency, political donations need to be published by campaigns themselves in real time, rather than waiting for the register. Delaying publishing donations until people have voted is anti-democratic. Voters deserve to know what lies behind the candidates they are being asked to vote for, before they cast their vote, not afterwards.”
Labour Together has become a highly influential group under Starmer’s leadership of the party.
Susan Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “Full and timely transparency in electoral funding and donations by all parties is critical to trust in elections and in politicians.
“Pending the Commission’s outcome, these kinds of investigations should be a wake-up call to all parties to work together to strengthen the Electoral Commission’s mandate and powers, and to clean up political finance.”
An Electoral Commission spokesperson stated: “The donations to Labour Together published this week were reported to us as part of an on-going investigation into the members association.
“Labour Together is currently under investigation for potentially failing to deliver donations reports within 30 days of accepting reportable donations, and for potentially failing to register a responsible person within 30 days of accepting a reportable donation. The outcome of the investigation will be published on our website when it has concluded.”
Hannah O’Rourke, Acting Director of Labour Together said in a statement: “We are aware of an administrative oversight around donations to Labour Together. This was entirely unintentional, and we contacted the Electoral Commission to make them aware of this as soon as we became aware of the error.
“We are now fully transparent and compliant with regards to our donations, and are cooperating fully with the Electoral Commission to assist them in their ongoing inquiry. This was an oversight on our part and we proactively approached the commission to put it right. We are in the process of working with them to ensure this does not happen again.”