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Behind Labour Together

Since running Keir Starmer's fraudulent leadership campaign, Labour Together has raised staggering sums of money from exploitative businessmen to staff the offices of MPs — shaping party policy in the interests of its mega-rich donors.

Labour Together has established itself as the most powerful group in Keir Starmer's Labour Party. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

This March, Andrew Marr told New Statesman readers there is a ‘battle for Keir Starmer’s soul’ as ‘two groups on the party’s right are vying to control its future’. Marr said these groups fighting to ‘control’ Starmer are the Tony Blair Institute and Labour Together.

Labour members certainly weren’t told they were getting a vote-Starmer-get-Blair deal. With Labour Together, many simply won’t know who they are, let alone whether they want them in charge. So who are this group with access to Keir Starmer’s soul?

Labour Together calls itself ‘a think tank offering bold ideas for Britain under a Labour government’. They have many things in common with Westminster’s corporate-funded policy shops, but Labour Together’s single-minded drive for back-room sway with Labour’s leadership is something different. The organisation looks more like a scheme for a band of high-net-worth individuals to shape Labour’s leadership, fixing them to the low-tax, pro-market policies they and their bank balances prefer.

A glance at the Register of MP’s Interests shows they are more than a ‘think tank’.  Labour Together spends tens of thousands of pounds supplying ‘assistants’ to Labour’s front bench. Rachel Reeves, Angela Rayner, Yvette Cooper, David Lammy, John Healey, Shabana Mahmood, Ian Murray, Nick Thomas-Symonds, and Louise Haigh have all had staff courtesy of Labour Together, either via secondment or funding. This kind of backstage contribution is way beyond typical ‘think tank’ practice.

Labour Together is a big money operation. Founded in 2015, when Corbyn became leader, it raised around £700,000 up to 2019 from rich former New Labour donors. While Labour Together posed as a ‘soft left’, unifying organisation, behind the scenes it worked on the plan Starmer used to regain power for the Labour right. In essence, New Labour’s rich supporters paid to get their party back. Since Starmer became leader, Labour Together has raised an additional £4 million as new, non-Labour ultra-high-net-worth individuals became backers.

In 2017, Labour Together hired Morgan McSweeney, a veteran Labour rights organiser, as director. McSweeney ran Liz Kendall’s 2015 Labour leadership bid. Kendall’s uninspiringly Blairite, corporate lobbyist-funded campaign crashed into last place against Jeremy Corbyn, with just 4.5 percent of the vote. But Labour Together’s polling of party members in 2017 showed McSweeney how to beat future left candidates. Their analysis divided Labour members into three groups: a solid left core that backed Corbyn, who they labelled ‘Ideologues’; ‘Instrumentalists’ would vote for whichever leader would be likely to win the next election; and ‘Idealists’ who made up the middle 40 percent of the membership and were often younger and projected on to Corbyn what they wanted him to be, supporting him for his progressive policies and rejection of  Tory austerity and Blairite warmongering and privatisation

To win, the right had to win over all of the ‘instrumentalists’ and ‘peel away’ some of the soft left ‘idealist’ members. Labour Together’s insight was basically to trick idealists into voting for a right-friendly leader with some false promises. McSweeney successfully took this scheme from Labour Together to help Starmer become leader. It was under this period, during McSweeney’s directorship, that Labour Together failed to declare over £800,000 of donations as required under electoral law. In 2021, long after Starmer had already been crowned leader, an Electoral Commission investigation found the organisation had committed over 20 offences and issued it a £14,250 fine.

Corporate Capture

Labour Together’s core funders are Trevor Chinn and Martin Taylor, respectively Labour donors from the New Labour and Miliband years. Chinn made his fortune with private equity firm CVC Capital, where the 81-year-old businessman now serves as ‘senior adviser’. Taylor made his money through Nevsky Capital, a hedge fund focused on Russian investments that he closed down in 2015. Taylor now runs Crake Asset Management, a hedge fund with more mainstream US investments. Crake’s latest accounts show that the partner with the ‘largest entitlement’ — presumably Taylor himself — was paid £4.8 million in 2023 and £15.3 million in 2022.

Labour Together dropped their soft left face in tandem with Starmer’s rightward march. Back in 2019 they said Labour should unite the party’s left and right with a ‘renewed commitment to transformational economic change’. By 2023, however, they were recommending Labour drop nationalisation to chase a Tory-voting ‘Stevenage woman’. Some say Labour Together are pursuing a different path from Blairism because, like their imaginary ‘Stevenage Woman’, they favour ‘socially conservative but economically interventionist’ policies. However, this really seems to mean throwing target voters some ‘scapegoating’ policies aimed at, say, migrants while throwing big corporations some ‘interventionist’ deals for big public contracts or subsidies. This might be different in tone from High Blairism but not so different in substance from New Labour’s signature mix of ASBOs and PFIs.

Ordinary Labour members can’t ‘join’ Labour Together, but the group are picking up new multimillionaire donors with no history of supporting Labour. Last October, Ian Laming, Chief Executive of property investment firm Tristan Capital Partners, gave them £100,000, his first recorded political donation. His firm’s accounts say their highest-paid director — presumably Laming — was paid £2 million in 2023 and £9 million in 2022.

Tristan Capital buys big properties, including shopping centres and student accommodation. Their latest accounts say that they are ‘cautiously optimistic about the future’. They ‘recognise’ that Russia invading Ukraine, high interest rates and inflation have ‘dampened the economic outlook’ but see such ‘dislocation in the markets’ as a ‘long-term opportunity to accumulate distressed or semi-distressed assets’. This means the key pro-Starmer group is funded by the boss of a firm hoping to win from the financial crisis by snapping up ‘distressed’ property on the cheap.

Labour Together’s latest donor is William Reeves, an American Hedge Fund boss with a fortune estimated at £375 million. Reeves, who gave Labour Together £50,000 in February, is a longstanding Lib Dem funder, giving the party £140,000 in 2023-4, and also funded David Laws when the Lib Dem MP was a minister in David Cameron’s austerity government.

Labour Together have started broadening their base beyond their big-money backers with some board appointments. Last November, they put Baroness Sally Morgan on their board. Morgan was a Labour Minister under Blair who went into a post-ministerial corporate career and was a director of PFI giant Carillion when it collapsed in what a Parliamentary investigation called ‘a story of recklessness, hubris and greed’.  Her appointment signals public investment in private corporations will be a signature of the next Labour government.

Starmer’s huge poll lead is pushing any discontent with his programme to the margins, despite widespread recognition that his programme copies Tory economic policy too closely to deal with Britain’s multiple crises. In government, a programme involving taxpayer support for favoured companies and public sector cuts is likely to create some pushback among Labour MPs and members. But by creating an alternative, undemocratic, multimillionaire-funded structure which weaves through the top layers of the party, Labour Together could insulate a government from any such discontent.