Parliament & Politics: Tories name donors giving over pounds 5,000

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WEETABIX, THE makers of Ian Botham's favourite breakfast cereal, emerged yesterday as one of the main corporate backers of the Conservative Party.

The company was named among the supporters in the party's accounts, which disclosed for the first time all the donors of more than pounds 5,000.

The accounts also revealed the extent to which the party has called on personal loans from its own senior officers, including the party's treasurers, to tide it over its cash crisis in the general election.

A personal cash donation of pounds 1m was given by an unnamed source connected to Michael Ashcroft, the chairman of the Tory treasurers, and a leading businessman, who is also believed to be the biggest single financial backer of the party.

The accounts also reveal a close relative of Sir Graham Kirkham, another treasurer, gave an interest-free loan of pounds 500,000 to be repaid by next 24 July. An interest-free loan of pounds 500,000 was made by a company in which carpet baron Lord Harris of Peckham has a controlling interest, to be repaid by next 1 July. Another party official, John Spurling, gave an interest-free loan of pounds 250,000 with no fixed repayment terms. He also made cash and non-cash donations of pounds 260,000.

Leonard Steinberg, another treasurer, donated pounds 100,000 in cash.

Donations made by the board of treasurers for the year ended 31 March 1997 totalled pounds 67,500. Other treasurers who made donations totalling pounds 27,500 in cash included Sir Malcolm Chaplin, Sir Geoffrey Leigh and Sir Eric Pountain.

Other big business donors included Lord Blyth of Rownington, deputy chairman of Boots, who advised John Major on the Citizen's Charter and was given a peerage by the former Prime Minister; Sir Stanley Kalms, the eurosceptic chairman of Dixons, the high street electrical goods chain; Lord Stevens of Ludgate, the chairman of United News and Media; Sir Tom Farmer, the head of Kwik-Fit; Irvine Laidlaw, a Scottish industrialist, Martin Arbib, a founder of Perpetual Unit Trusts and believed to be a tax exile; and Christopher Sharples, the chairman of a data company and son of a Tory peer.

The accounts show the Tories were pounds 10m in the red after the general election, but party officials last night said the accounts proved the party was on a sound financial footing, in spite of the deficit. The party's overdraft is pounds 3.6m.