WALTER CRONXITE on the latest intriguing developments in Croydon’s marginal parliamentary constituency
Sarah Jones, Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central, has been given a £10,000 donation towards her campaign funds by someone who sat in parliament as a member of the ConDem coalition.
In a week when Gavin Barwell, the sitting Conservative MP, learned that fellow Tories standing in nearby constituencies are refusing to canvass on his behalf, this news, first reported in the New Statesman, will be another blow to his chances of getting re-elected.
Jones is one of 30 Labour candidates and 15 LibDem MPs and candidates who have received the campaign cash from Lord Oakeshott, the peer who was expelled from the Liberal Democrats after an attempted coup against Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s MP, has also received a £10,000 Oakeshott shot-in-the-arm for her re-election campaign in Brighton, as his lordship seeks to create what he calls a “progressive alliance” to secure the election of a “Labour-led government headed by Ed Miliband as prime minister”. Oakeshott has made his millions from property investment, and says he has paid out the money to target seats to “help save our country from a Tory government cringing to UKIP”.
Jones confirmed to Inside Croydon today that the donation was received just before Christmas, and that it came with no conditions; that’s a rarity in modern politics, and also signal of quite how determined the cross-bench peer is to undermine Clegg.
Political commentators have described the funding as “Oakeshott’s £600,000 election gamble”, undertaken by him in an effort to see his long-time political colleague, Vince Cable, given a senior post in a Miliband Cabinet after the General Election on May 7.
With the Greens, Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru having already held meetings to agree their own “progressive” policy terms for supporting a 2015 coalition in Parliament, Oakeshott’s funding could play an important part in the outcome of the election.
The Conservative party is estimated to be spending three times as much on the election campaign nationally as less-well-funded Labour. Thus, Oakeshott’s £10,000 will be a big boost for Jones’s prospects.
Labour sources suggest that even in target marginal seats, such as Croydon Central, the average budget for a “long campaign” – that is, one lasting months rather than weeks – is around £42,000. The Oakeshott cash could mean that Jones at least now has a campaign war chest half the size of the likely budget that Tory Barwell has at his disposal.
The move may also be significant with Liberal Democrat voters in Croydon Central. The candidate selected there is James Fearnley, but he is a senior member of the LibDems in Bermondsey where Clegg loyalist Simon Hughes, the LibDems’ deputy leader, faces a hard fight to retain his seat. Hughes is not among the recipients of the Oakeshott largesse.
With that battle on his home patch, Fearnley may be distracted from matters in Croydon, where the LibDems polled 6,553 votes at the high-water mark of their “I agree with Nick” 2010 campaign. How many of those LibDems this time vote for Labour will be crucial to the outcome in Croydon Central.
Today, a Labour party source told Inside Croydon, that the Oakeshott money, “will make a difference to the campaign”.
They said, “Parties need to try to raise the maximum allowable in order to mount a good campaign these days, especially in winnable seats. It’s almost impossible to raise this in small amounts from individuals, which leads to the difficulties all parties face – donations from potentially dodgy donors, accusations of vested interests, favouritism and so on.
“Having said that, the donation from Oakeshott looks cleaner than most – he’s not imposing any conditions and he’s quite open and transparent about what he’s doing.”
Announcing his funding gifts, Oakeshott told the New Statesman, “Britain stands on the edge of a cliff … Will we vote Tory or UKIP for Euro referendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long-term peace and security at risk?
“Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a Parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led government with Ed Miliband as prime minister? He has stood firm against the clamour for a referendum with considerable courage and nous.”
The Staggers noted how much of Oakeshott’s money is going to seats where tactical voting – ensuring that the Labour and LibDem vote is not split, allowing a Tory candidate to get elected – is likely to be a factor.
They also say, “Although the left is currently more fragmented than for decades, with the Greens and the SNP eating into Labour’s vote, Oakeshott’s donation is an example of how Miliband has partially succeeded in reuniting progressives. The peer’s gift is the second from a former SDP figure after David Owen donated to the party last year. It would have been unthinkable for either man to aid New Labour in this way.”
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