On the 20th July 2021, the Labour Party National Executive Committee passed a resolution to proscribe four Socialist organisations: Socialist Appeal, Labour In Exile Network, Resist and Labour Against The Witch-Hunt. Anti-Corbyn activists, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, claimed that “membership of these [Socialist] groups is incompatible with Labour’s values”.
In August, the Party went a step further and began expelling those who did not support the purge, including renowned Socialist filmmaker Ken Loach, who stated on Twitter that ‘Labour HQ finally decided I’m not fit to be a member of their party, as I will not disown those already expelled.”
In the midst of this internecine bloodletting, Stephen Kinnock MP was quietly presented to the media as the figurehead of a new pressure group called Labour Renaissance. The official website of Renaissance declares:
“Renaissance is unique because we are dedicated to re-connecting Labour with those everyday values held by people of all backgrounds that have historically been at the heart of Labour – values of family, hard work, decency, security, opportunity, pragmatism, a quiet patriotism, neighbourliness, community cohesion, contribution and reciprocity….Behind Renaissance is a group of Labour activists committed to making Labour electable again.“
Our article asks who are these activists behind Renaissance, and is it their values that are in fact incompatible with a truly Socialist Labour Party?
In the “The Road Ahead” pamphlet, published today, Keir Starmer outlines his vision for the Labour Party. One point that he is at pains to highlight is his belief that “the role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it.”
Building on our previous investigations into anti-Corbyn pressure groups, we are going to demonstrate how Labour Renaissance and its Board members stand at the nexus of a complex network of front organisations and the same private enterprise partners that bankrolled Starmer’s leadership bid.
We explore how these agents of a corporate agenda are working towards the same goal: to ensure their priorities and interests gain increasing influence over the policies and personnel of the Labour Party; that any ideological threat to capital and capitalism from a future Labour government is neutralised.
We suggest you treat with cynicism the disingenuous hysterics about “entryism” and the Militant tendency. We will show you that the real threat to the Labour Party is the Magnate Tendency.
As Labour Renaissance is a new organisation, it may be useful here to discuss similar, more established pressure groups within what could be considered the right-wing faction of the Labour Party, and analyse donations registered in the last quarter.
There are a number of organisations that are chaired by sitting or former MPs and individuals associated with this tendency, organisations that have a significant crossover of wealthy patrons with the Renaissance MPs. Due to this pre-existing crossover, it is our argument that these groups provide a useful template for understanding how Renaissance is likely to operate, and the money behind it. This is of course an educated guess, as Renaissance has failed to disclose all but one of its donors.
Labour Together, a pressure group (that has only two donors The Free Press? mention frequently) received £10,000 from Trevor Chinn and £50,000 from Martin Taylor in the last quarter. So far in 2021, Chinn and Taylor have given £170,000 to LT, and in the last 19 months a total of £336,500.
Another group benefitting from the benevolence of wealthy patrons are Progress Ltd. Also an organisation we have covered previously, Progress was founded by three key individuals deeply embedded in the New Labour project. It received £85,000 from Policy Network in the last quarter (Policy Network is Peter Mandelson’s lobbying firm.)
It is important to remember these groups as we look at the activists involved in Labour Renaissance. Progress and Policy Network merged in May 2021 to form Progressive Britain that also inherited stewardship of Labour To Win. Labour Renaissance and Progressive Britain will be chairing a joint event at the Labour Party conference at the end of September, so clearly have at least some mutual interests and agenda.
When we compare the patrons of sleek, corporate pressure groups such as these to the grassroots, mass-membership funded models of the four proscribed groups, as well as their relative size and financial clout, it becomes clear that Starmer’s Labour is no longer representative of those that labour, but those that own labour.
The four groups proscribed by the NEC are Labour Against The Witch-hunt, Socialist Appeal, Resist and the Labour in Exile Network. It is estimated this purge could see the automatic expulsion of at least 1000 Labour Party members for being associated with one of these groups. It should be noted that an estimated 100,000 members have left Labour under Keir Starmer’s leadership, so it could be asked who represents the bigger threat to the future of the party!
(All the proscribed organisations were understandably reluctant to disclose specific sources or amounts of funding, as well as specific membership information, due to the ongoing action taken against them by the Labour leadership).
Labour Against The Witch-Hunt are an organisation founded in 2017 “to oppose the purge of pro-Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party”. When asked about LATW funding, Secretary Stan Keable disclosed that “we rely wholly on membership fees and donations, which are all pretty small scale”. Membership fees for the group are either £5 or £10 per year and membership numbers were “in the hundreds”. Keable also stated that the turnover of LATW “has always been less than £10,000 per annum” since its inception in 2017. (For context Martin Taylor donated £10,000 to Labour Together in June of this year.) When asked about groups such as Labour Together and Labour Renaissance, Keable neatly summarised: “deep pockets win”.
Socialist Appeal “is a Marxist organisation which stands for the Socialist transformation of Society”. Launched in 1992, members “stand for a genuinely socialist government – one that will not serve the needs of capitalism, but do away with capitalism.”
Regarding funding, the website states that:
“Big business are happy to pour funds into right-wing organisations such as Progress or Stephen Kinnock’s new ‘Renaissance’ outfit. By contrast, we rely only on the support of our supporters in the labour movement – and are proud to do so.”
Socialist Appeal sources of funding are regular or one-off donations, subscriptions to publications or “fighting funds”, and a bookshop. As a very rough indication of the organisations size, the Facebook page has 16,700 followers and the supporters group has 5,000 members.
Socialist Appeal’s official position on the amounts and sources of donations made to the current Labour leadership team was described thus:
“This rogues’ gallery of wealthy Blairites behind Starmer’s campaign regard their contributions as an investment in getting the Labour Party back under their control. They will expect Starmer to deliver by protecting the interests of big business, keeping Labour’s membership at bay, and not rocking the boat…The litany of pro-establishment and anti-Corbyn figures who funded his leadership run doesn’t exactly chime with the “commitment to socialism” and “unity” Starmer promised during the campaign. The agents of the ruling class see Starmer as their man: literally bought and paid for.”
Resist are an organisation founded by former Labour MP Chris Williamson. Williamson resigned from the Party and stood as an independent after he had the whip removed twice. He took the dispute with the Party leadership to the High Court, and with the significant damages awarded to him after they ruled in his favour he set up the Left Legal Fighting Fund “to fight for injustices on the Left”.
Resist’s mission statement describes the organisation as “a grassroots movement which aims to empower communities and workers through democratic, practical and political means.” In his Register of Interests from his time as an MP, Williamson recorded a total of £9,000 in donations from three Trade Unions, CWU, FBU and Unison.
Resist Director & National Coordinator Siân Bloor, stated that
“Our income is very small at present and we only have small donations from our members. Many of whom are disabled, unwaged or pensioners. We will never turn a member down for their lack of funding. Our philosophy is that everyone needs a voice, not just those with the means to pay. We do not receive funding from elsewhere, this would be the road to perdition, as we have seen countless times with mainstream Parties.”
Launched in February 2021, the Labour In Exile network “aims to unite socialists unfairly suspended, expelled, or resigned in dismay from the Labour Party.” The group are also grassroots funded by members, who pay an annual fee of £5/£10 and donations.
Christine Tongue, a member of LIEN, stated that “getting wealthy donors will take the Labour Party in completely the wrong direction. Labour should be a grassroots party, representing working people and the poorest in our society, not a party of the rich.”
When contacted about how the group was funded, the Renaissance press spokesman would only say that “Details of our start up funding can be found in the Guardian and Labourlist pieces on Renaissance.”
The Guardian piece stated: “the new group, which has financial backing from north-east lawyer Vaqas Farooq…”
The LabourList article stated: “The new group, funded privately by Labour members”.
“Detail” is perhaps not the right word.
The Renaissance mission statement declares that “Renaissance is currently privately funded by Labour members.” Neither Renaissance or Vaqas Farooq responded to emails requesting specific details of amounts of money invested so far in the group, nor did they respond to requests for the identities of these “Labour members” providing funds.
The lack of transparency from the aforementioned Socialist groups regarding finances is understandable due to the proscriptive actions taken against them. But why would a privately funded pressure group, staffed by sitting MPs, councillors and political advisors, be reluctant to disclose the details of who funds it? Should an organisation seeking to directly influence the policies and personnel of the Labour Party be able to withhold details of the interests it represents?
We argue that the wealthy donors to the individuals on the Renaissance Board in the past logically felt that these politicians represented their views. This also stands for donors to pressure groups the Renaissance Board Members have been affiliated with. Without transparency from Renaissance itself, it is up to us to make an educated guess about the nature of these donors, based on its Board Members prior associates.
So, to modify an old psychology axiom, the best predictor of future political donations are past political donations! And from what we have found, the financial fingerprints of the magnate tendency are all over the Labour Renaissance Board.
FOUNDERS AND BOARD MEMBERS
Stephen Kinnock is the Labour MP for Aberavon. Stephen is the son of Neil Kinnock, who in a neat historical parallel, engaged in a dirty war against Tony Benn and the left-wing of the party during his stewardship of Labour in the 80s.
So, what can we glean from the individuals and organisations that have funded Kinnock since 2017?
Most importantly Vaqas Farooq, the individual identified as providing the key start-up funds for Labour Renaissance, has previously donated £3,000 to Kinnock through his company Innovation In Housing. Kinnock has also been paid £750 for a 3 hour presentation for Shoosmiths, a company Farooq is a Partner of (more on Farooq below).
Trevor Chinn has donated £2,000 directly to Stephen Kinnock in the past. Chinn’s total political donations currently stand at over £818,000.
Policy Network have previously paid for Kinnock to attend a conference in Canada.
Kinnock is a member of the Labour Tribune Group, an organisation we covered in our previous article, that received £15,000 from Labour Together.
Another patron of Kinnock is a company called BM Creative Management. The founder and Director of this organisation is Lord Waheed Alli (who we covered in our previous article on donors to Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign). A Blair era Labour peer, Alli has personally registered £472,000 in political donations since 2004. BM Creative Management have registered £417,000 in donations since 2008.
Kinnock has also received £5,000 from Dr Joseph Zammitt-Lucia, a self-described “business leader, entrepreneur” he “ works with business and institutional leaders to explore the implications of a rapidly evolving, chaotic socio-cultural environment on organizational strategy and operational effectiveness”. Whatever that means. Zammit-Lucia and Kinnock are both Board Members of the Radix think-tank, of which Shoosmiths are an official corporate patron. Zammitt-Lucia is also a prolific political donor, having registered £466,000, mainly to the Liberal Democrats, since 2011.
Kinnock received £4,000 from Nick Harrison. He is a senior partner at management consultancy behemoth Oliver Wyman. He is recorded as spending £67,000 on political donations, £60,000 of which was to an organisation called Labour People Ltd between 2015 and 2016. Harrison was a director of the company, of which no other information can be found other than they received £10,000 from Gina Miller.
Historically Kinnock has received donations from just one Trade Union, receiving £35,000 since 2017 from right-wing union Community. We also covered them in our previous article and their support for Owen Smith against Jeremy Corbyn.
Joe Jervis is a founder and Director of Labour Renaissance. He is currently Stephen Kinnock’s senior parliamentary researcher and a co-founder and Director of an organisation called Labour Network in England Ltd. Incorporated in 2017, LNE’s stated purpose is “cultural education”. The electoral commission have only one recorded donation made to LNE: in October 2017, four months after incorporation, the Network received £10,000 from Labour Together.
The list of Founding Supporters of the English Labour Network also has a few familiar names linked to Labour Together. John Cruddas is a Director of Labour Together, as well as a recipient of donations from both Chinn and Taylor. Morgan McSweeney, a close associate of David Evans and Starmer’s former campaign manager, is a Director of Labour Together. Shabana Mahmood MP is an affiliate of Labour Together. Liam Byrne is not associated with Labour Together, but has received donations from both Trevor Chinn and Progress Ltd.
Jervis also states that he is the Author, Co-Editor and Project Manager of a book called “Spirit of Britain, Purpose of Labour” published in 2018 by an organisation called Labour Future (website now deleted). Other contributors from Labour Renaissance board are Justin Madders and Charlotte Holloway. Labour Future was a pressure group funded by businessman John Mills, the founder of the JML shopping channel conglomerate. Mills served as Chair of first Vote Leave and then Labour Leave during the Brexit referendum and is also a Fellow of the Radix think-tank. He has to date made over £1.2M in political donations since 2005, including to Lisa Nandy MP, a Director of Labour Together.
Vaqas Farooq is a Partner at Shoosmiths law firm, as well as Director of The Renaissance Project Ltd (The Renaissance Project was listed as Innovation in Housing until August 2020.) Under the guise of IiH, Farooq is registered as making £11,000 of donations in 2020, £3,000 to Kinnock and £8,000 to the leadership campaign of Lisa Nandy MP.
Ruth Smeeth is a former Labour MP and former Director of the charity Hope Not Hate. She is currently the Chief Executive of Index On Censorship. She has also served as Vice-Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, as well as previous roles at BICOM and the Community Securities Trust. As an MP she received donations from the following individuals:
Trevor Chinn is registered as giving Smeeth a total of £10,500.
Simon Tuttle is the Chair of Hope Not Hate, and a former senior Private Equity Executive. A Trustee of Reprieve, Tuttle has also made £40,000 of registered political donations since 2017. This includes £10,000 to Labour Together and £20,000 to Lisa Nandy MP. He gave Smeeth £5,000.
Another of Smeeth’s patrons is a company called Betterworld Ltd. We have also discussed Betterworld, and its Directors Rebecca and Henry Tinsley, in a previous article. Betterworld are registered as having made over £618,000 in political donations since 2006. Henry Tinsley as an individual has made £63,000 in political donations since 2005. That’s £681,000 in total. Betterworld are registered as having donated to Lisa Nandy, a group called Labour Tomorrow that also received money from Martin Taylor, and Saving Labour, that received money from both Taylor and Trevor Chinn.
A final noteworthy benefactor of Smeeth is a company called Tamares Real Estate, that donated £5,000. Tamares is run by Poju Zabludowicz, the billionaire son of an arms dealer who founded BICOM. He is a former Trustee of the Jewish Leadership Council and has served as a Board Member of the Community Securities Trust.
Tamares have donated £315,000 since 2005, mostly to the Conservatives including David Cameron.
Smeeth received a total of £28,000 worth of funding from the following trade unions: USDAW, GMB, Unity and RMT.
Yvette Cooper has been a Labour MP since 1997 and came third in the leadership contest won by Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike Kinnock and Smeeth, she has not registered any donations from the corporate patrons or front groups already mentioned above. However, her funding record tells its own story.
Since May 2019 Cooper has only two declared sources of funding. In June 2021 she received £25,000 from a company called MPM Connect. This company is run by Peter Hearn, a millionaire and prolific political donor. The only other source of funding Cooper has declared since 2019 is Hearn in a personal capacity! Combined MPM/Hearn have donated £199,000 to Cooper since 2016.
Other patrons include:
Anthony Doyle, who gave Cooper £10,000 in 2019.
Barbara and Ken Follett have funded Cooper with £27,600 since 2016, from a combined total between the couple of £758,000 since 2001. Barbara is a former Labour MP and Founder of the Labour Women’s Network. Her husband Ken is a bestselling novelist.
Millionaire Property Developer David Garrard donated £25,000 to Cooper in 2016. Since 2003 Garrard has made over £1.7M in political donations, including Ian Austin, Rachel Reeves and Owen Smith.
From the information available to us, Yvette Cooper has not received a single donation from a Trade Union in over 20 years!
Justin Madders is the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port. His donors are all Trade Unions: GMB, UNITE, Vauxhall Motors Unite Shop Stewards Committee and Unison, that have provided him with £46,324 since 2016. Madders is also a member of the Labour Tribune group.
Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East and Deputy Leader of the Welsh Labour Party. She is a former aide to Keir Starmer. Her Register of Interests shows that she is funded by the same Trade Unions as Madders: GMB, UNITE, UNISON and USDAW. She has registered a total of £17,700 since 2017.
Gurinder Singh Josan is a councillor and member of Labour’s NEC who stood as part of the “Labour To Win” caucus. Labour To Win is an organisation formed from Labour First and Progress Ltd, that we mentioned above. Another infamous NEC member, Luke Akehurst, is a Director of Labour First.
Michael Payne is a Labour Councillor who is also affiliated to Labour To Win. In 2016 he organised a letter signed by 500 Labour Councillors in support of Owen Smith’s leadership bid against Jeremy Corbyn.
[For the other Renaissance Board Members see Appendix 1]
In April 1944, Labour MP and founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan gave a speech in the House of Commons criticising government proposals to limit the rights of workers to strike. He proudly stated:
I do not represent the big bosses at the top. I represent the people at the bottom, the individual men and women … This Regulation is the enfranchisement of the corporate society and the disfranchisement of the individual.
Under the Starmer regime, with the support of corporate front groups such as Renaissance, the Labour Party is now working for the enfranchisement of the corporate society, and the disenfranchisement of the individual. Labour is no longer the party of Bevan, representing the individual men and women at the bottom. Labour now represents the big bosses at the top.
With autocratic changes to the internal election mechanisms of the Labour Party looming, the question is what can be done to stop those with deep pockets gerrymandering the Party, and purging not just Socialist members, but Socialism itself.
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APPENDIX- RENAISSANCE BOARD MEMBERS
Rachel Eden is also a Labour Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Reading. She stood against a candidate backed by Momentum and John McDonnell to stand as the general election parliamentary candidate.
Paul Lindley is the millionaire founder of children’s smoothie corporation Ella’s Kitchen.
Paula Surridge is an academic and Deputy Director the UK In A Changing Europe think-tank. Her recent work focuses on the Labour Party, in particular she has conducted several analyses of the changing demographics and policies of the post-Brexit Labour Party, including working with English Labour Network and a sympathetic academic assessment of the Labour Together 2019 Election Review. She states at one point “The focus here is…looking at the internal dynamics of the Party and, unsurprisingly given the focus of Labour Together, on healing divides.”
Kate Dearden is Head of Research, Policy and External Relations at Community Trade Union. She is a former Labour Party Campaigns Officer and Assistant to Kezia Dugdale MSP. She was a signatory of a letter backing Yvette Cooper to lead the Labour Party.
Charlotte Holloway is a former Labour parliamentary candidate and Tech advisor to Sadiq Khan, she is the current Government Relations Advisor for Zoom.
Hugh Goulbourne is a lawyer and former Labour Mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire.
Follow Sean Rankin on Twitter @ClydesiderRed