The US Democrats are traditionally the underdogs when it comes to funding. They cannot match the fat cats that donate to the Republicans. Yet Barack Obama managed to do far better than John McCain through millions of small donations that, together, totalled well over $100 million dollars more than the big donors to the Republican camp.
Labour is in dire straits financially, with accumulated debt and no money to spare. It faces a Conservative party which has (already) accumulated millions and also, at next year's European elections, UKIP which no doubt have had its usual massive donations from just two millionaires.
Can Labour learn from Obama and use any of the same techniques? Is website fundraising feasible in the British context?
Well, website fundraising was not well known in America either a decade ago, so it is perhaps worth trying. Indeed, Labour candidates for Yorkshire in next year's European elections already have a fundraising function through PayPal on their website www.labour4yorkshire.eu. This aims to begin work to enable them to match the several hundred thousand pounds that the Conservatives are expected to spend on their campaign in Yorkshire alone and the thousands that the BNP will spend (a potential threat to Labour's second seat), let alone UKIPs resources.
The spending limit on spending for all parties is £3.375 million - for each region contested by a party this is the equivalent of £45,000 multiplied by the number of MEPs returned for that region.
In 2004, the Conservatives spent the most of all the political parties at £3.1m. In comparison, Labour spent £1.7m, the Liberal Democrats £1.1m and both were comfortably outspent by UKIP who spent £2.3m. The BNP spent a paltry £228,000 on their campaign, but will be expected to devote more resources next year as they consider themselves to have a serious chance of winning at least one seat.
But the breakdown of spending on actual advertising is particularly revealing. In 2004, UKIP spent nearly £1.6 million on advertising: more than every other party added together. In comparison, Labour spent £320,000 on advertising, the Conservatives £571,000 and the Liberal Democrats £129,000.
Traditional fundraising techniques: (raffles at meetings, party members donating, contributions from trade unions etc) remain vital. But, given Labour's dire straits financially, they will not be enough. Not is it realistic to rely on a few large scale donors who are few and far between and often dislike the attention that their donation would attract. Both necessity, and the wider interests of democracy, mean that Labour should instead look to get a large number of small donations from its supporters. Should any readers of this article like to start this effort click here!
Richard Corbett MEP