Guest article

Labour Treasurer candidate Esther Giles on her candidacy, the changes she wants to make – and the decision-making of party’s payout to ‘whistleblowers’

Esther Giles

Esther Giles is standing for the position of Labour Party Treasurer in the ongoing NEC elections. She has an economics degree from Cambridge University and an Operational Research Masters from Sheffield Hallam. She is a qualified Public Finance Accountant (CPFA) with 35 years’ experience in the NHS, including at Finance Director level and has overseen the development and delivery of effective systems of governance and reporting in organisations ranging from £20m to £3bn turnover.

In this guest article, she writes about her candidacy and the changes she believes need to take place in the way the party handles and reports on its finances – with revelations that will startle some members.

Esther the Socialist Iceberg: Democratising Labour Party Finance

In the next week or so, the Labour Party Annual Report for 2019 will drop onto your virtual doorstep. I was advised by the current Treasurer last week that it would be sent out “in the next couple of weeks”. The Annual Report will contain the Financial Statements for 2019 (“The Accounts”). 

I’m very interested in The Accounts, because, as a Chartered Public Finance Accountant, I read accounts like many people read the newspaper. Whilst I don’t expect that Party members would want to learn the language of accountancy, I think it’s really important- and entirely possible- that they understand the financial figures if they want to. It’s one of the roles of the Party Treasurer to make sure that they do.

So I am writing a bit here about how I think Labour Party Finances should be democratised.

As for the title of this section, a detractor has claimed that my campaign to democratise Party finances and introduce good governance and accountability would be the iceberg that sinks the Labour Party Titanic. I say that such a ship shouldn’t be in the sea and needs a major refit.

The management of Labour Party Finance should be based on the foundations of democracy, socialism and good governance

What this requires is that:

  •  there should be meaningful member participation, which requires, in turn, good communication of financial information.
  • There must be clear structures and processes for financial decision making and accountability throughout the Party; and, ultimately.
  • Members decide how the money is spent.

It’s my view that none of these things are true at present.

NEC Committee Structure – and Labour’s ‘subsidiary companies’

The Annual Report contains a list of NEC Committees, but we can’t see who’s on each Committee. Neither does the Annual Report say anything about what any of these Committees have been up to during the year. At the very least, I would expect a list of members, the identification of roles on the Committees (eg Chair), and an Annual Report from each one. The Committees and the NEC should be accountable.

Moreover, there are two subsidiary companies controlled by the NEC. I’d challenge any Labour Party member to tell me what they know about these two companies. In fact, they are property companies. Members don’t see the accounts for these companies (though anyone can get them from Companies House – where you can also find out who the directors of these companies are).

Party Treasurer- Real or Figurehead?

The Labour Party is in the process of electing a new Treasurer to NEC. The role of the NEC Treasurer is vague – there’s no job description – and the Registered Treasurer is actually the General Secretary. So, I’d say that the role of Party Treasurer needs a bit of tightening up so that there are actual expectations for and accountability from the role. It’s my view that the Party Treasurer should at least be responsible for:

  • Putting in place a scheme of financial governance, including a schedule of delegation to make it clear who can agree what;
  • Overseeing the budget setting and sign off process, including letting members have a say;
  • A timetable of reporting to NEC and to members; as Chair of the NEC Business Committee, the Treasurer should prepare a regular (quarterly) finance update to members- this could be written and/or via a webinar for members; and
  • Holding the Executive to account (as Chair of the Business Board) for their use of Party funds, and reporting exceptions.

Annual Accounts- Telling Members what they need to know

As for the Annual Accounts, they are simply presented in a statutory format at present. There’s no attempt to make them accessible to readers, and the notes provide the bare minimum of information. All of that’s fine for Statutory purposes, but it simply won’t do for members. The Treasurer should provide an annual Webinar to members for detailed review and discussion of the financial figures. They should provide a lot more information to support the figures in the accounts based on what members want to see. There should be accessible charts and narrative. The top salaries of the executive should be published.

Investing in the Grassroots

At present members have no say in setting the budget. There is a presumption that there should be a war chest of reserves for campaigns, whilst CLPs may be starved of funds and HQ costs grow year on year. We need to talk about this. We need to talk about how much money CLPs need to be effective grassroots organisations in their communities.

CLPs shouldn’t need to rely on raffles and jumble sales to stay afloat any more than we would expect the Governance and Legal Unit to have a car boot sale to keep going. At the end of 2018, the Party had £27m in its general reserve (on a turnover of £46m) and allocated £3m to CLPs. Spend on CLPs was less than 7% of Party spend.

To put this into perspective, the Party spent £11m on the 2017 GE campaign. CLPs should be properly resourced outfits, just as HQ is. Instead of saying “how much money is left over for CLPs?”, we should be saying “once we have properly resourced CLPs, what resources do we have to run national services?”. Of course, CLPs will be required to have the good governance that the NEC should have, and there will need to be a development programme to deliver this. 

As I say in my Campaign:

#YourMoneyYourRules

Below is a copy of a set of questions Giles sent to Labour’s general secretary David Evans three months ago, regarding Labour’s huge out-of-court pay-out to former employees who had attacked the party in last year’s Panorama programme – in a case the party’s lawyers said it was on course to win.

She has received no response.

FAO: David Evans, General Secretary of the Labour Party and copied to Chair of NEC, Labour Party Treasurer and Bristol NW Chair

Dear David

I am writing in the light of the reported decision to pay out an estimated six-figure sum to the former staffers who claimed defamation following the BBC Panorama investigation into allegations of anti-semitism within the Labour Party. I understand the figure concerned to be in the region of £600,000.

I have reviewed the Labour Party Rule Book and find that it does not contain a schedule of delegation for financial decisions. For a figure of this size, I would expect the matter to be referred to the Board or equivalent (presumably the NEC) for scrutiny of the recommendation to pay, together with the the evidence supporting these recommendations.

Please can you:

– provide to me the schedule of delegation used by the Party so that I can see the relevant requirements for a decision of this type?
– tell me who the decision makers were?
– tell me who will review and agree the minutes of the relevant meeting, and who has access to these minutes?

Many thanks

Esther Giles

Her candidate statement, along with those of the others standing for the role, can be read here.

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28 comments

    1. You’d immediately change your politically promiscuous, vacillating tune if she was employed to look into stammer’s financial backers, hypocrite.

      1. We don’t need “forensic” analysis of the fraternal leader’s personal finances (although he can if he wishes publish his personal tax summary like his predecessor). We need to know his leadership election “donor list”. Of course, were we to ‘follow the money’, none of it would necessarily lead back to a trilateral billionaire (they’re too clever for that, and IOUs do not feature on personal tax returns).

        But just as we would with an overtly pro-capitalist politician, the centrism of Sir Keir might indicate that his ‘third-way’ politics is not just about denying the antagonism of labour and capital, but also accepting the quid pro quo dynamic of capitalism and accepting personal gain and advantage in return for his centrist “moderation”.

        Even though he’ll probably never be Prime Minister, Sir Keir will probably die a very rich man (a la every neoliberal PM since Margaret Thatcher).

      2. qwertboi – “We need to know his leadership election “donor list”.

        If you haven’t seen this already you’ve only yourself to blame, they were published months ago.

  1. This candidate sounds honest and competent. Obviously totally unsuited to office in the modern Labour Parrty.
    Seriously , how can anyone with an ounce of integrity or common sense oppose her candidacy?

      1. Well done Sabine . I have already voted for Esther and the left candidates for the NEC using the voting preferences recommended by Skwawkbox to maximise our chances of getting Left candidates elected.
        The NEC is our most important committee and in effect runs the party between conferences. It is vital that therefore that there is a strong left presence on it. I would ask all members to please vote for Esther and the left slate.

  2. I profoundly disagree with her on CLP financing taking precedence over national financing.
    We should be saying “once we have properly resourced CLPs, what resources do we have [left] to run national services?”
    When the patient needs a heart transplant you don’t blow the budget on a hairdo, facial and manicure.
    CLPs are run by volunteers but the party headquarters needs paid professionals in many roles, not least the people delivering any ‘development programme’. I also think development programmes should be provided at head office so that delegates get to see what goes on at Southside.
    I also believe in central oversight and so should a treasurer I think.
    Look at the local corruption we read about so often here on Skwawkbox – CLPs being run as little fiefdoms.
    Give them their own budgets to manage and ‘big fish in a small pond’ syndrome will increase.
    The primary business of CLPs is to canvass and get the candidate elected surely?

    1. I don’t know a great deal about political pary funding, but I do know quite a bit about public sector funding, and some private company funding.

      The tendency in those is for money to be used exactly as you wish …. from the centre, NOT where the actual work is done. So we end up with the members of the upper hierarchy spending vast amounts of cash on fancy offices, the latest over-specified computer systems, and offices so hot that people are walking about in tee-shirts, whilst those doing the work that needs to be done scrape by on the bare minimum, or indeed rely on raffles and local money raising.

      I believe what she has raised is worthwhile at least a discussion. The spending of about £600,000 (regardless the reason for spending it) should need to have a thorough public paper trail, and whoever made the decision to be identified, and held to account, even if it was for new windows at HQ, or essential maintenance work. You cannot have £600K spent in any organisation without someone taking responsibility and referring it to a committee for formal approval, and minutes made and distributed.

    2. David Niven you really limit the brief of CLPs. You forgot to add ‘…… And shut up and do as told’. I think it is important for us to have a say in who our candidate is, for upper echelons to listen to us re what we need to launch an effective campaign, to also listen to our arguments and contributions why our Clp area might need to be classed as marginal. To mount anything reasonabkle you need a budget. To rely on fundraising and a few crumbs from HQ table is simply not good enough, and it is not acceptable when money is wasted on payments to certain people ignoring legal advice. We need accountability and honesty and transparency of processes on national level especially. Sadly we are more likely to find it at local level.

      1. Completely agree. CLPs could be so much more if they weren’t narrowly focussed on the ‘primary business… to canvass and get the candidate elected’ – yes that’s the endpoint but CLPs need the capacity to do serious community organising in its broadest sense, with everything that entails. That doesn’t seem possible for CLPs who just about scrape by. We need a vision for what grassroots strength looks like all across the country and the resources to build it.

      2. Naturally CLP’s shouldn’t be starved of funding and obviously financial control at Southside should be tight and in plain sight – the opposite of what it is now.
        Nothing in what I wrote suggested otherwise.
        If CLP’s are constantly short of funds then that needs addressing, but open oversight of accounts needs to apply there too.
        “and shut up and do as told” No. I’ve previously suggested a permanent online “open conference” specifically for CLP’s where anything can be discussed and raised with Southside.
        Obviously I knew my 4:03 would be unpopular – if you hate that you’re going to hate this more:
        I believe we have too many layers of government for a post-industrial society where all town centres look alike and the experience of work and life is virtually the same everywhere, except for differences caused be wealth and other inequity – to me it follows that local government is parochial and anachronistic and an opportunity for tin-pot martinets to thrive.
        I believe in levelling – local government doesn’t – if it believes in anything it’s in prioritising its local voters to keep itself in office and that’s divisive.
        CLP v Southside I see as just another opportunity for factionalism we don’t need.

    3. We lost in winnable marginals because they were so badly underfunded that they couldn’t afford crucial leaflets. We’d have had a Labour government in 2017 if it wasn’t for this

  3. This is exactly what is needed, someone with financial acumen, so that there is no more siphoning of funds to Ergon House …

  4. Esther Giles is a first class candidate and deserves the support of all socialists.

    Unfortunately she has been branded a transphobe in Bristol and further afield by TRA ultras and anti-feminists including Heather Peto, the co-chair of LGBT Labour. These people have lost the plot and would rather see a Blairite stooge elected treasurer than have their own particular sensibilities offended.

    Good luck Esther, I’ll be gunning for you.

    https://grahamlinehan.substack.com/p/heather-peto-and-the-benefits-of

    Below is some background from Kate McEwan, one of Esther’s supporters.

    “In the 2020 most ‘progressive’ cities list, Bristol has moved up to become the second woke capital of the UK. This is something that gender critical women have long known to their cost, as for the last two years a bitter war has been waged against them by trans rights activists.

    The most notable victim of this war is Esther Giles, currently running for the post of Treasurer on the Labour Party NEC. Despite being one of the most qualified candidates in terms of her background as a financial director in the NHS, these TRA’s and their very enthusiastic female assistants are determined to try and tarnish her campaign by unfounded accusations of transphobia.

    Two years ago, Esther stood by a friend who was being hounded on social media by a trans-identified male named Karen Passmore. At the meeting to select local councillor candidates shortly afterwards, Esther was prevented for standing as a local councillor and was branded a transphobe. This accusation was not upheld by the Labour party.

    Shortly after this Esther retweeted an article written by a trans person criticising the tactics of TRA’s because she found it described her treatment perfectly. This retweet was the second piece of so-called evidence used to prove her transphobia. At the time Heather Peto called for Esther’s expulsion from the party. Karen Passmore’s behaviour towards Esther at a subsequent meeting was so aggressive that the Women’s officer arranged that Esther should always have two people with her at any meeting where Karen Passmore was present.

    Since then there has been a low level co-ordinated campaign across social media to promote the allegations that Esther is a transphobe, driven principally by another trans-identified male, Kaz Self, and two willing assistants, Gwyneth Brain and Mandy Parry (Amanda Barbara). This campaign has gone up a gear in the last two days since the ballots for the NEC elections went out.

    Esther is running a campaign for financial transparency and good governance within the party. At our local CLP meeting to nominate candidates, despite the agreement to speak only for our nominations, Kaz Self managed to liken Esther to an iceberg upon which the Labour Party could be wrecked. Esther has been called a vile transphobe, and a ‘rancid anti-semite’. Any post on any forum supporting Esther’s campaign is being quickly taken over by this group of activists who endlessly repeat the same false accusations.

    When we were planning Esther’s campaign, we were fully aware that this was likely to happen. Esther is very stoical, but it’s terrible to see a good woman hounded in such a way, at a time when the Labour party needs courageous and principled people within its ranks. We need everyone to intervene if they see Esther’s campaign being hijacked in this way, and we need the gaslighting and abuse called out.

    Kate McEwan, Labour Party member.

    1. Thank you for making us aware of these issues. I will keep an eye on this.

      1. Pro-democratic candidate statement and a SUPERB letter to Evans. That Esther doesn’t seem to have received a reply from Evans is a comment on him.

  5. Agree with her on many of her points ,esp the funding of CLPs , with proper transparent reporting and clear and concise rules on what and what not those funds be used for , I would not be too worried over ” fiefdoms ” corrupting the use . Make it clear that illicit corrupt use of funds will result in legal court proceedings and consequentially jail time .
    Concerning but not surprising that she has had no answers from Evans regarding her very pertinent questions over the imo 600K theft of our membership money .
    However , I don’t yet know enough of her background ( Corbyn supporter or Blairite/Stummerite ? ) , present Treasurer appears to be of past merit with her background of Unite Union membership and it’s support for Corbyn , unlike Unison or GMB

  6. Cambridge University education eh! She must be clever , so she’ll get my vote.

  7. You don’t need a whiz kid acountant to work out whats been happening with membership money,more a basic understanding of criminals behaviour.Guts and honesty mixed with a firm belef in the working class should be motivating enough.Unfortunately none of these attributes have been shown over many years inside the Labour party.And because of this funding from the membership will be much less over the next few years and that will be when the membership that have not left the Labour party will ask what happened to the massive amount of money under the Socialist revival.Look no further than the knight,but he will be long gone and we will probably have another Lawyer running the party and recruitment from those with a degree.We Never learn do we?

    1. Joseph – You will be relieved to hear that the membership numbers aren’t a problem, they have increased by over a ¼ since their low point prior to the 19GE.

  8. I like her idea that the accounts should be presented in a way that people can quickly understand without having to know the verbiage of accountancy. A PLC with which I have a relationship presents its accounts annually. I have no idea what half the figures relate to. Doubtless they are accurate and legal. Just not understandable for anyone without accountancy training. An LA organisation I worked for had the same problem. No-one could see “at a glance” where money had been spent, what was owed, what was planned to be spent. That gives power to the centre, because the centre can just BS, and by the time anyone has worked out what has happened, it has been agreed and spent.

    More power to her elbow.

  9. Good article by Esther, although it neglects the role of the regions and nations, which if they are all like Wales raise and allocate really large sums of money while providing minimal and extremely sketchy disclosure and accountability. What I have seen in Wales (or been unable to see!) is maybe worse than anything Esther describes in this article, and I take Wales to be typical. Also she does not talk about the regional/national affiliation fees issue. It may be a relatively minor issue in the larger scheme of things, but it is very clearcut – money is demanded from CLPs on threat of exclusion from regional involvement with no basis for that under rule.

  10. Makes you wonder what Blair, Brown, Miliband and the other ‘viable’ candidates did for years, that these basic systems are not in place FFS. I thought they were supposed to be hot on management!

    And yes, every party member should know the name of the person(s) who decided to give £600k of their subs to saboteurs who were actively undermining their employer. The current leadership don’t care how much of other people’s money they give away, how much taxpayers’ money gets blown on Covid contracts and how many people die of it.

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