Building firm gives huge boost to Tories

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The Independent Online
A builder in the West Midlands has put traditional Conservative heavyweight supporters, such as Hanson, Scottish & Newcastle and Tate & Lyle in the shade, by donating pounds 114,000 to the party for its general election war chest.

Documents filed at Companies House by J J Gallagher, a small, family- owned property developer, reveal a gift of pounds 114,046 to the Tories. The firm had a good year last year, making profits of pounds 7m, but to put the size of its donation in perspective, the industrial giant Hanson, which has a stock market value of pounds 9.7bn and made profits last year of pounds 1.27bn, gave pounds 100,000. Another traditionally big donor, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries is worth pounds 4bn, but gives just pounds 50,000Tate & Lyle, the giant pounds 1bn sugar group, donates just pounds 15,000.

The Birmingham-based firm has given money to the Tories before, but not on this scale. In 1991, it gave pounds 12,000 and in 1992, election year, pounds 10,500.

J J Gallagher was founded by John Gallagher who, as a destitute agricultural labourer, came to England from Co Mayo in Ireland during the depression in 1929. One of its biggest projects has been the Ikea superstore complex, adjacent to the M6 at Wednesbury, near Birmingham.

John Gallagher died in 1994, leaving his youngest son, Tony, in charge. Today the company keeps an extremely low profile, shunning all publicity.

Tony Gallagher, who lives at Lapworth in Warwickshire, refused to discuss the reasons for the donation, which comes at a time when the Tories are way behind in the opinion polls and other companies have been reining in their support. "There is a history of this company supporting the Conservative Party," said Mr Gallagher. "The donations we make are disclosed as required by law and we don't comment beyond that."

He added: "We support what we wish to support. We are a private company and it's private."

If other traditional donors followed J J Gallagher's example, the Tories would have no financial problems. As it is, the party remains burdened with a pounds 10m-plus overdraft and is desperately anxious to build up a general election fighting fund.

Two of the biggest backers, Lucas Industries, the engineering group, and Inchcape, the car distributor, have stopped donations, worth pounds 25,000 and pounds 40,000 respectively. They cited Tory hostility towards Europe as the reason for the cancellations.

Others to have scrapped their funding include Allied Domecq, the drinks group, British Airways, Argyll, the supermarkets operator, and even United Biscuits, the Tories' biggest benefactor for many years. Last October, Tate & Lyle cut its support from pounds 25,000 to pounds 15,000 and to rub it in, for the first time gave pounds 7,500 to Labour and pounds 2,500 to the Liberal Democrats.

Anxious to be seen to be spreading their largesse more evenly - and with one eye on the opinion polls - other companies are giving to both the Tories and to Labour. Pearson, the media group, gave pounds 25,000 each to the Tories and Labour.