Sunday 7 July 2019 10:00 pm

Lib Dems promised flood of cash if they sign up to Remain alliance

A FLOOD of cash is set to be released to the Liberal Democrats from wealthy donors if the party signs up to a Remain-focused electoral pact, City A.M. can reveal. 

The cash-strapped party received just £4.8m in funding in the 12 months to March 2019 – £12.4m less than Labour – following an announcement last year that it was cutting staff at its London headquarters and scaling down its autumn conference in a bid to save money.

City A.M. has been told that the party has been offered a financial lifeline by a slew of anti-Brexit donors who were originally prepared to pump cash into Change UK, the pro-Remain party created by 11 former Labour and Tory MPs in February.

However, the splitting of Change UK – with six of its MPs walking away from the group after a disastrous European elections campaign – means the money is up for grabs by resurgent Lib Dems, but only if the party agrees to a non-aggression pact with other Remain parties.

Former Change UK MP Heidi Allen is acting as a conduit for the wealthy anti-Brexit donors, and two weeks ago briefed Lib Dem MPs on the resources available to them if they backed the plan.

A key part of the proposal involves the Lib Dems, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru agreeing to be led by new polling that would drill down into which pro-Remain candidates have the best chance of winning each constituency in a general election.

Heidi Allen is being used a conduit by donors looking to fund a Remain alliance

The Brecon by-election, in which the Greens, Change UK and Plaid Cymru have agreed not to field a candidate to give the Lib Dems the best chance of victory, is being used as a test case for the new alliance. 

The by-election will take place on 1 August, just days after a new Tory premier arrives in Number 10.

There is funding exhaustion, they don’t want another march or campaign or petition.

– Gina Miller on why Remain donors are tightening the purse strings

One source close to the Lib Dems told City A.M. the party had seen donations pick up since the European elections in May, in which it finished second with 16 MEPs and 20 per cent of the vote.

“We saw a very significant uptick in financial support since the local elections, and then much more since the European elections,” they said, adding: “The smaller donations of around £2,500, we’re seeing dozens of new people giving that, which is good in Lib Dem terms.”

Despite the new flow of cash, the source admitted the Lib Dems “have always been desperately underfunded” and admitted the party does not have the financial firepower to seriously mount a challenge in every seat.

The attempt to form a political peace treaty comes as City donors are increasingly reluctant to put money into anti-Brexit groups, according to outspoken pro-Remain figurehead Gina Miller.

The businesswoman set up a website in advance of the European elections giving advice on how people should vote to maximise the number of anti-Brexit MEPs.

She told City A.M. that some donors are holding back from injecting more cash into various anti-Brexit campaigns as they are not seeing enough results. 

Miller said: “It’s very difficult to say ‘release’… There is funding exhaustion, they don’t want another march or campaign or petition.”

Miller said the debacle over the Peterborough by-election in June did not play well with many potential donors.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 31: Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who has announced she will run to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats, speaks to the media ahead of the first members' hustings in the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign at the London Academy on May 31, 2019 in London, England. A poll has placed the Liberal Democrat Party as the current leading party, with the Conservative and Labour parties being knocked into third and fourth place, below the Brexit Party. Voter dissatisfaction in Brexit and the ongoing processes surrounding leaving the European Union has seen a spike in people seeking options to their usual political allegiances.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Jo Swinson is hoping to succeed Sir Vince Cable as Lib Dem leader

The Lib Dems, Change UK and the Greens were close to endorsing one unity Remain candidate, Femi Oluwole, from the anti-Brexit group Our Future Our Choice. 

However, the pact fell apart when Oluwole decided not to run, as he claimed he did not want to split the Labour vote and let in the Brexit Party. 

The Lib Dems and Greens ultimately contested the seat, while Change UK opted to not put forward a candidate.

Labour won the by-election, with the Brexit Party just 683 votes behind. The Lib Dems finished fourth.

“It was abysmal what happened there. It was a disgrace,” Miller said. 

The decision whether to pursue an electoral alliance will have to be taken by the next Lib Dem leader, with the winner of the contest to succeed Sir Vince Cable being announced on July 23.

Leadership contender Jo Swinson told City A.M.: “I won’t rule anything out that might help us stop Brexit. 

“I was heavily involved in the attempt to run a joint Remain candidate in Peterborough, and where Liberal Democrat local parties are in favour, it is something I don’t think we should rule out elsewhere.”

Her rival, Sir Ed Davey, was more circumspect when it came to any kind of formal alliance, but accepted the need for “a new version of old-style tactical voting”.

He told City A.M.: “While I’m cautious about a blanket national pact, we must work with other parties and in some cases individual candidates to stop Brexit.”

Change UK MP Chris Leslie told City A.M. the only “alliance” he was interested in forging was one among anti-Brexit MPs already in Westminster.

“That’s my focus – not seats or an election,” he said. “Certainly not deals about party funding either. Rolling-up sleeves and getting on with preventing the imminent Brexit disaster in this parliament here and now.”