'We achieve most when we come together'

Unite AGS and Labour Party treasurer Diana Holland gives speech on Labour's finances

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Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland, who also serves as the Labour Party’s treasurer, presented her report to Labour conference on the Party’s finances.

In her speech on Saturday (September 25), Holland hailed the fact that for the fourth and fifth years in succession, the Labour Party remains debt-free.

“It was a great honour to be re-elected as your Treasurer, and I want to thank all parts of the Party for the confidence you have placed in me,” she said. “This past year has been a difficult one for all of us, and it remains a difficult time for our finances too.

“In difficult times like these, the discipline of the NEC Finance Strategy supported by all leaders and general secretaries for more than a decade, has never been more critical,” she added. “It was this strategy that enabled the Party to become debt-free,and it is this strategy that will ensure we stay debt-free.”

Holland went on to say that all Labour party money is measured against its priorities as a party and that its budget is set and closely monitored.

This she said was “to ensure future financial stability and security, money to fund the next General Election campaign, as well as delivering what is needed today.”

Holland warned however that managing party finances in line with this strategy has become a greater challenge amid the Covid pandemic, which has hampered fundraising efforts.

She also highlighted other difficulties, including a cut to opposition political party funds as a result of the last general election, provisions in the Trade Union Act which remains a risk to trade union political funds and a hit to reserve funds after fighting three general elections in five years.

“And as I reported in 2019, the uncertainty of the Theresa May government meant that after the 2017 General Election, unlike in previous times, it was decided to maintain the Party staffing and organisation on an ‘election ready’ footing,” Holland explained.

“This was further extended after the 2019 General Election, right through to the vital elections we had to contest earlier this year.”

Holland noted that the reality of legal challenges affecting the party has also meant legal expenditure has increased significantly over the last five years – to over £2m a year.

“All these pressures have taken their toll on Party finances,” she told conference. “But the situation would be so much more difficult without all the support we receive.”

She went on to thank CLPs, affiliated trade unions and socialist societies; elected members councillors, MPs, MSPs, AMs, Mayors, Police Commissioners and the thousands of individual members and supporters.

“Your donations, large and small, make a real difference to Labour campaigning,” she said. “On behalf of us all, I want to thank you. We know from history that surges in membership at General Elections are followed by a fall in membership in the following years.

“However, it is important to recognise our membership remains high when compared with previous decades,” Holland continued, noting that a year on from the 2019 general election, membership still stood at 500,000, compared to 380,000 a year after the 1997 general election and 200,000 a year after the 2010 general election.

“But these are difficult times for Party Finances,” Holland warned. “These are difficult times for everyone. And these are divided times too. But these are not unique times.”

She went on to describe that throughout more than a century of Labour’s history, the party has had to come together to rebuild its strength – from the depths of defeat in 1920s and 30s, a “great progressive 1945 Labour government rose”.

Holland highlighted too the thirteen years of “Tory misrule” through Macmillan was followed by successful Labour governments in the 60s and 70s which introduced vital pieces of legislation such as the Equal Pay Act and Race Relations Act, among others.

And she noted as well how a Labour government from 1997 to 2010 introduced the national minimum wage, the Equality Act, Sure Start, paternity leave and the right to paid holidays for all workers.

“The fundamental lesson we must take from our history is this that we achieve most when all parts of our party come together,” she told Conference, adding that to fulfil Labour’s progressive ambitions, it needs to have “stable and secure finances”.

Holland hailed the NEC finance strategy which eliminated the party’s historic debt.

“It took over ten years – but we did it,” she said. “In times of increasing financial strength, the NEC Finance Strategy helped us make sense of competing priorities for spending while building up the General Election Trust Fund.

“Today, the NEC Finance Strategy is what we need to steer us through the turbulent waters we now face,” Holland concluded. “That was the message when I was first elected treasurer 11 years ago,and that is my message now.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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