Millionaire stars chip in for Labour

THE TRADE unionists who once exclusively bankrolled the Labour Party have now been joined by a colourful mix of media moguls, City gents, shopkeepers, leading figures from the arts and comedians.

The Labour Party annual report to be submitted to next month's party conference reveals that while the traditional representatives of the old working class, such as the Transport and General Workers Union, still give vital funds to Labour, their influence is being diluted by a cadre of the "rich and famous" who have been converted to Blairism.

The party has named its donors offering Labour in excess of pounds 5,000 under its new code of ethics. Top of the "rich list" is Lord Sainsbury of Turville, head of the family supermarket chain. With a fortune estimated at more than pounds 3bn he is the richest man in Britain and is the party's most generous supporter.

A former backer of the Social Democratic Party, Lord Sainsbury, ennobled by Tony Blair, is believed to have given Labour pounds 3m, including pounds 1m this year. Not to be outdone, supermarket competitors Safeway and Tesco also provided sponsorship funds to Labour in 1997. Likewise, Sainsbury plc has also underwritten party events.

Another Labour Party million-pound man is the super-rich restaurateur Robert Earl. The owner of the Planet Hollywood chain and a former acolyte of Thatcherism, he came to the Labour Party's rescue when a gaping hole was left in its bank balance by the Ecclestone affair.

He replaced the pounds 1m that had to be returned to Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One racing, after the Government was accused of favouritism for allowing motor racing exemption from the blanket ban on tobacco advertising in sport.

Top media figures now backing Labour include Lord Hollick, who controls the Express Newspapers Group, the publisher Lord Hamlyn, and Felix Dennis, the hippie radical who first found fame at the Oz trial in 1971 and went onto make a fortune with his magazine company. Greg Dyke, head of Pearson TV, is once again on the list of major donors, as is Melvyn Bragg, who was made a Labour life peer at the beginning of the summer. The two men backed Tony Blair with pounds 80,000 of their own money when he ran for the Labour leadership in 1994 and have been in the Prime Minister's inner circle ever since.

Elements of "corporate Britain", once the most trenchant supporters of the Conservative Party , now also feel comfortable enough with New Labour to help it out financially. Ronald Cohen, a thrusting venture capitalist, and David Goldman, the software tycoon, both feature on the donors list. Representing Asian business acumen is Nathu Ram Puri, an engineer-capitalist.

Fashion-conscious New Labour also has a surfeit of celebrity glamour among its donors. The "A-list" names include the boss of Creation Records, Alan McGee, the man behind Oasis and latterly a critic of "Cool Britannia", a phenomenon that New Labour strategists eagerly exploited for political gain.

His successive donations have led to him to being appointed to serve on a Government task force on the music industry, along with multi-millionaire popster Mick Hucknall. Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, Rochdale's soul diva Lisa Stansfield, Pete Townshend, Peter Gabriel and the actors Jeremy Irons and Richard Wilson are also on the donor lists. The world of sport is represented by Manchester United's manager, Alex Ferguson, who once worked in the bastion of Old Labour, the Clyde shipyards, and Alan Sugar, chairman of the struggling Premier League club, Tottenham.

Cross-dressing actor Eddie Izzard and fellow comedian Ben Elton also gave at least pounds 5,000 each. It is a long way from the days when Len Murray and Jack Jones hob-nobbed at Number 10.