There’s a huge question mark over who’s funding the ex Labour and Tory MPs

A hand holding £50 notes
Fréa Lockley

On 20 February, three Conservative MPs – Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen – jumped ship to join the Independent Group with eight former Labour MPs. But serious questions remain about quite how this new group will be funded. Because it’s not eligible for any public funding.

Money, money, money

Since 1975, so-called “Short Money” has been “allocated to opposition parties for parliamentary duties”. According to the Herald, the Independent Group thought it would qualify for “hundreds of thousands of pounds in ‘short money’”. But it’s since emerged that:

the House of Commons has confirmed that short money is not available “to a new political party, if it was established in the middle of parliament”… [This] means that the group will have to rely on public donations to survive in the meantime.

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But there was another question over funding the newly independent MPs. Because as The Canary also reported, it looked possible that the new group might exploit important loopholes in electoral law.

Loopholes

The Independent Group website shows that it’s “supported by Gemini A Ltd”. This is a private company, registered with Companies House on 16 January. Former Labour MP Gavin Shuker controls “75% or more” of the shares. The Guardian‘s Jim Waterson suggested this meant that, because the group is actually a private company, “it isn’t subject to electoral law rules requiring [it] to declare financial backers”.

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The Electoral Commission has now confirmed that donations over £1,500 will still need to be accounted for. But only days after it was formed, a number of other questions remain about the Independent Group’s transparency and accountability.

Who’ll pay now?

Public records of MPs’ expenses reveal that many of these MPs have high outgoings for their work. In fact, most of the former Labour MPs claimed more in expenses than Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The latest figures show that in 2017-18 Corbyn claimed £174,114.01. Meanwhile, some of the other MPs’ expenses claims were higher:

Before becoming Labour leader, Corbyn made significantly fewer expense claims than these other backbench MPs.

Privately owned?

Some of the newly independent MPs however, already have additional sources of income.

As The Canary reported, questions have also emerged about some Independent Group members’ links with private companies. Smith, for example, voted against nationalising UK water services. Yet, as the Morning Star reported, she and her husband have financial links to “private water companies that also fund the all party group for water that she chairs”.

Smith is also listed as an officer for the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT). This “educational charity” links corporations with MPs. Its list of business supporters includes major banks, arms companies, oil multinationals, and key outsourcing giants like Capita and Serco. It also lists Cuadrilla – the company behind controversial fracking processes – as a supporter. Smith voted against Labour to support fracking. As Evolve Politics reported, the IPT is “granted special access to directly influence the decisions of MPs from within Parliament”.

Umunna, meanwhile, receives considerable additional income from a wide range of private companies, in addition to his MP salary of £77,379. The Register of Members’ Interests shows that this includes an additional salary of “£65,040 a year” for his work with The Progressive Centre thinktank. No one, however, seems to know who funds it.

Funded by?

Six of the eight former Labour MPs are members of the influential Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) group. Joan Ryan, who quit Labour on 19 February, is chair of LFI. Along with Luciana Berger, she also claimed that a “culture of anti-Jewish racism” in the Labour Party was part of her reason for leaving. This led some people to speculate about potential funding behind the new group.

In a Facebook post, Labour MP Ruth George reportedly said:

Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’, of which Luciana [Berger] was chair, is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it, especially when the group’s financial backers are not being revealed.

It’s important for democracy to know the financial backers for any political group or policy.

George was later forced to issue an apology for suggesting that Israel might be funding the Independent Group. However, if its funding sources remain secret, this is an accusation that may not go away. Because, as Asa Winstanley reported in 2017, an undercover film called The Lobby claimed that LFI “is a pro-Israel lobby group inside the UK’s main opposition party”. Winstanley also claimed that the film establishes ‘financial links’ between LFI and Israel:

The film shows undercover footage at 2016’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool in which [Shai] Masot tells LFI chairperson Joan Ryan “we’ve just now got the money, it’s more than one million pounds, it’s a lot of money.”

In response, LFI issued a statement that claimed:

the money was in relation to a visit “advertised by and paid for by the Israeli embassy. It had nothing whatsoever to do with LFI delegations.”

Ryan’s involvement in this matter has resurfaced widely on social media since she joined the Independent Group:

Big questions

Less than a week after forming, one thing seems certain. There are more questions about who’s funding the Independent Group than there are answers.

Featured image via Images Money/Flickr

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  • Show Comments
    1. The huge question mark you seem to be ignoring is how the Independent Group offer a an alternative to the utterly discredited hard right and hard left leaderships of labour and the tories.
      As expected you choose to ignore the real debate and focus on spurious financial claims.

      1. It’s very nice that you believe a parties funding is so unimportant, personally I think it’s hugely important to know who pays & what influence they have.
        And what precisely is the alternative this “group” are offering, because all they have said so far, is we hate Jeremy Corbyn, they offer NO ideas, NO policies &
        certainly NO credible alternative to anything. By the way, if this “group” were open & transparent about their funding, there would be no “spurious financial claims”.

      2. The same alternative that led to the Financial crisis 2008, the Housing crisis we are experiencing now, the crisis in the NHS, partly due to PFI, the crisis in transport after 2 decades of Privatisation, the expences scandal, mostly Blairites in the ‘New’ labour party.
        The group say they want a NEW politics, then let them begin by putting their version to the test with By-elections to reinforce their belief that they are right.

      3. What you seem to overlook is there’s already established centrist party that bends with the wind of the publics opinion and that public holds them in contempt – the Liberal Democrats who propped up one of the most far right fiscally Conservative and overtly islamophobic Tory parties in history.
        You also miss the most staggering point of all. The centrist position of the Labour Party has been since its conception the party of the many and not the few that Corbyn leads now. He’s re-centering the party to its socialist roots from the lurch to the right Blair so catastrophically forced it down.
        The lib dems had their chance to be part of of a centre left government in coalition with a anti austerity Labour Party. Instead it confined tens of thousands of students to a life of debt their manifesto promised would never happen and in doing so signed their own death certificate. Remember now?

    2. Excellent in depth journalism in describing the nature of who these “independent’ people are.
      Hardly Independent thinkers here, and for whose influence do they wish to please is clearer.
      Good thing they’ve left the Labour Party. They didn’t belong!
      An election will work it out. Imagine if there wasn’t a secret ballot how fractious conversations would be?
      Speaking your mind could be a real problem.
      Thank goodness we have the Commons.

    3. Keep your head in the sand patbat. British politics is getting a much needed shake up. A lot of us out here have had enough of Corbyn and May in equal measure. That’s a good starting point for the Independent group. It’s only 2 days old, give it a chance!

      Embrace some alternative thinking coming to the debate over the future of the country instead of resorting lazy daily mail- esque labels such as “quitter”.
      I have to laugh at the blah blah use of Blairite on this website. If ever there was a word to epitomise those who live in a Westminster bubble that is it.

      1. British politics is in the process of the “Much needed shake up”, it is called ‘Democracy’.
        the electorate is fed up of being blamed for all the wrongs of the last 4 decades, fed up of Political party’s that do not listen to them and patronise them, fed up of the needless Austerity of the last decade where WE have paid the price of the selfishness and greed of the Political elites with their snouts in the trough and earning amounts of money from Lobby groups and Business interests.

      2. Seriously, this has been in the planning for well over 2 years, & WHAT alternative thinking are you talking about? because I have heard none so far, except the usual, oh Corbyn is a racist, antisemite, communist, etc (just like your daily mail-esque labels eh), I would suggest that the whole point of this exercise is to try to destroy the Labour party before any election (which could be in the summer), and you seem to argue that who funds our elected bodies is irrelivant, and yet you accuse me of having my head buried in the sand, wow, good luck with you new Labourtory party.

    4. Great. The debate is already far more interesting in the past few days than the tired old hard right Brexiteers verses hard left agenda of the past few years. The chasm in the middle re-enters the discussion.

    5. There’s no mystery who’s financing “Upchuck” Umunna & Co; the same scumbags as the Official Tories; property spivs, arms dealers, sweatshop-operators and asset-strippers!

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