Are we subsidising Greenwich Labour?

Today’s the day MPs’ expenses were finally revealed – well, as much as the House of Commons was prepared to let us see, with so many lumps of ██████ that a normal person might suspect they haven’t quite learned their ████████ lesson and that they’re still a bunch of secretive ██████.

Looking locally, Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford’s expenses seem unremarkable enough until you discover that he’s being charged £2,000 each quarter by Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party for the use of its HQ in Woolwich Road, Greenwich for “surgery and office facilities”. He has – and by extension we have – been charged this since at least January 2004.

But the premises are actually owned by the Labour Party itself – Land Registry documents show the building has owned outright since 1986 by Labour Party Nominees Limited, which the party’s constitution says holds “party assets, either outright or on trust for the benefit of the party”.

Community site covered this earlier today, saying: “Whilst the rent doesn’t seem excessive, other landlords around London are having to deal with a slump in rents and one wonders where’s the incentive for Nick to push for an even better deal on rent when its his own party that benefits from the income?”

Quite. Mr Raynsford’s office said the rent was based on a “based on a valuation carried out by a professional valuer”.

I checked my two nearest neighbouring MPs to see what their arrangements were – Lewisham East’s Bridget Prentice did not, in the most recent financial year, charge anything to her local party (although we can glean that she’s very late in paying her bills). But Eltham’s Clive Efford also submitted a bill from the Eltham Labour Party for use of its premises in Westmount Road of £8,328/year, together with a covering letter breaking down the charges. The Land Registry says the property has been owned since 1978 by “trustees of Woolwich and Eltham Labour Party”.

So what to make of this? At first sight, it does look like the taxpayer is helping to fund the existence of the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party. But would Nick Raynsford get a better deal elsewhere? Or is he saving us money by doing this? It isn’t clear. It’s certainly handy for an MP to have his office in the party’s office, but when cash starts to change hands we need to tread carefully.

(You might want to see a spirited defence of this sort of arrangement from the BBC’s Daily Politics earlier this month – from former Conservative leader Michael Howard.)

Perhaps this is something that needs considering in the myriad of reforms that’ll no doubt be called for – although what we really need is an outright revolution; a new voting system, and a redefinition of what we expect of our MPs. Maybe MPs offices should be selected centrally, rented from local government or other organisations. But whatever, we should be confident we’re getting value for money from our MPs, not giving local political parties a ██████ nice little earner.


  1. I don’t know but £2000 a quarter doesn’t sound like an awful lot. Could he get it cheaper somewhere else? It seems unlikely.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong in principle with using party premises to do constituency work although obviously it all needs to be valued properly etc. As long as money isn’t being siphoned off, which it doesn’t appear to be here then I don’t really see the problem.

    Whatever other faults Raynsford might have, greed doesn’t appear to be one of them. his claims overall are pretty low by the standard of MPs.

  2. I think you are making a very strong point here Darryl. In Nick Raynsford’s defence, he does appear to have more integrity that the vast majority of his colleagues and I believe he genuinely worsk tirelessly and does his best for the people of Greenwich. I have to say that Clive Efford does too and I am not a natural Labour supporter.

  3. I think it’s clear from Nick Raynsford’s expenses that he’s a pretty good egg, but its hard not to think this arrangement stinks a bit and is probably widespread.

    His single biggest “supplier” in terms of cost of running his office, is his own local party that he has a relationship with and it’s doubtful other suppliers were even considered.

    When he won his seat, his party effectively won £40k of funding (over a 5 year parliament). It’s a system that works out very well for an incumbant MP and works against the other parties trying to challenge.

    I would have thought it’s something that at least needs to be considered and debated as part of the overall discussion about how politics is done.

  4. I don’t think there’s any question that Raynsford’s a decent and diligent man – if you were casting for a soap opera, the part of “local MP” would be played by Nick Raynsford.

    My first thought when I stumbled across this was “what the hell?” But it definitely raises more questions than it does answers – both in terms of the actual arrangement (it could be that Labour Party Nominees charges Greenwich & Woolwich Labour for use of the building) and in the whole funding issue.

    My first question was to wonder how Greenwich Labour (as it was) paid for the building during Rosie Barnes’ term as MP, when the SDP held the seat. But maybe that was in a time when political membership wasn’t the minority sport it is now.

    Power can help perpetuate power – the money that councillors, MPs and MEPs receive will often find their way into party coffers. It’s only natural to give your hard-earned wages to a cause of which you approve. But if there’s a risk of a little bit being taken off an expenses bill, then the system needs to be made more transparent.

    And we, as voters, need to take up our own responsibilities and work out which is fine and which is swinging the lead.

    The one thing that we have learned recently is that “well, it’s always been done this way” is no way to carry on in an age where information (and disinformation) can be spread within minutes.

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