By Kate Holton and Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives smashed the record for the amount of money raised in the first fortnight of an election campaign on Thursday, while the unions turned on the taps to keep the opposition Labour Party in touch.
Official spending data from the Electoral Commission showed that in the first two weeks of a campaign that will determine Britain’s EU future, the Conservatives raised 8.6 million pounds compared with Labour’s 3.7 million pounds.
This is the second time this year Johnson has broken a record for political donations. Over the summer, he raised the most money by a British politician campaigning to lead their political party, underlining his popularity with donors.
Johnson, 55, hopes to win a majority on Dec. 12 to push through the last-minute Brexit deal he struck with the EU last month after the bloc granted a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to have taken place on March 29.
Following the first week of the campaign when the Conservatives raised 26 times more in political donations than Labour, the main opposition party narrowed the funding gap by raising 3.5 million pounds, nearly all from unions.
The biggest came from the Unite union, which donated more than 3 million pounds, while the Communication Workers Union donated 425,000 pounds. The support means Labour has also broken its own record for fundraising in the early stages of an election.
The Conservative money came from 61 different donors, including from hedge fund managers and the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party raised 2.25 million pounds, with a 2 million pound donation coming from businessman Christopher Harborne.
Despite the strong financial performance for the ruling party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently outspending the Conservatives on Facebook adverts ahead of the election.
The pro-EU Liberal Democrats are currently spending the most on Facebook, with more than 212,302 pounds in the last week, according to Facebook data.
Labour spent more than 175,000 pounds in the same period, while the Conservatives spent just over a tenth of that with an outlay of 18,298 pounds.
Before the vote, all political parties must submit weekly reports setting out the donations they have received over 7,500 pounds. Labour say they raise more in small donations, which are not recorded in the Electoral Commission’s figures.
In total, the political parties contesting the election raised 15.6 million pounds in the first two weeks, compared with 9.6 million pounds in the same period ahead of the last general election in 2017.
(Editing by Stephen Addison)