Page last updated at 19:14 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 20:14 UK

Blair tennis match to raise funds

Tony Blair playing tennis in 2005
Tony Blair is a keen tennis player

Former Labour fundraiser Lord Levy says the party faces "great difficulty" in winning back big donors, as it auctions off a tennis match with Tony Blair.

The party, which is 24m in debt, is to hold a fundraising event also offering a meeting with X-Factor judges.

Lord Levy said he was "surprised" at the measure adding: "Desperate times take on desperate measures".

He suggested the party should copy US politicians who raise money via small donations.

Lord Levy told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "I think fundraising is cyclical. People tend to support parties they think is going to win, if they feel a party isn't going to win and are not in tune with where the party is at they tend not to want to support it ... I certainly do think that is what's happening with Labour."

'Unique lots'

The former fundraiser, who stepped down when Tony Blair left office, has made several critical comments about Mr Brown's leadership but denied he was "bitter" and wished the party luck in its fundraising.

But he said getting back the big long-standing supporters who were refusing to give money would be done "with great difficulty".

Instead the party should look at the success of US politicians in attracting smaller donations from thousands of supporters via email campaigns.

He likes to play a serve volley game - he's got a pretty good forehand, not a bad backhand
Lord Levy on Tony Blair's tennis skills

Labour says the auction is "to help raise funds for Labour's campaign to fight and win the next general election".

The party, whose website has opened bids on the various "unique lots" on offer, says last year's sports celebration dinner at Wembley was its most successful fundraiser ever. It says the live auction was a big part of that.

Former sports minister Richard Caborn, who is patron of the dinner, described the lots as "a series of prizes which money cannot normally buy".

Lord Levy, who as well as being the party's chief fundraiser under Tony Blair, was also Mr Blair's tennis partner, said the person who wins a match with the former PM would have a fight on their hands.

"He's an extremely fit guy and always likes to win and is very determined, on a good day he plays a good game. He likes to play a serve volley game - he's got a pretty good forehand, not a bad backhand."

But he added: "It's not quite like saying that they're playing against Nadal or Andy Murray is it?"





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