£160,000 for a tennis match between David Cameron and Boris Johnson - with Lynton Crosby as ball boy

 

Whitehall Editor

The Conservatives offered up their Australian election chief to act as a “ball boy” for a fund-raising auction tennis match between David Cameron and Boris Johnson which was successfully bid for by the wife of a wealthy Russian oligarch, it has emerged

In an attempt to raise more money to bankroll the party’s election campaign, Tories threw in the services of Lynton Crosby and its co-chairman, Lord Feldman, to act as “runners” for the match - fetching stray balls.

The slightly demeaning offer helped push up bids for the auction lot at the Conservatives’ controversial summer ball to £160,000. But it led Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, to criticise the event for providing paid-for access to senior politicians.

“It’s shocking that you can pay for such secret access,” he said. “If you have a formal meeting with a government minister you would have to disclose that… The whole lobby is a central issue that the political system has to get to grips with.”

A Tory spokesman has previously said that all the party’s donations are in accordance with law.

The lot, called “the ultimate tennis match” between David Cameron and Boris Johnson, was eventually “won” by Lubov Chernukhin – the wife of President Putin’s former deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin.

Lawyers for Mr Chernukhin told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which uncovered details of the event: “Mr Chernukhin attended the Hurlingham Club event with his wife, Lubov Chernukhin. Mrs Chernukin is a Conservative Party member and supporter. Mrs Chernukhin bid on the lot to which you refer. [Her] bid was successful.”

Eight years ago, Mr Chernukhin bought the former headquarters of the Midland Bank, which featured in Goldfinger, for £72m, planning to turn it into a hotel.

But in 2009, Credit Suisse called in administrators Grant Thornton on the Sir Edwin Lutyens-designed building after Mr Chernukhin defaulted on a £55m loan.

The auction was conducted by Hugo Swire, a Foreign Office minister and former Sotheby’s director, who volunteered the services of Mr Crosby and Lord Feldman for the tennis match.

Mr Swire also put up a jar of honey made by his own bees, saying he wanted it to become the most expensive pot of honey ever sold. It is believed to have gone for around £15,000.

Other auction prizes included a “Fantastic Eight Gun Pheasant Shoot”, which according to the event brochure was donated by Rosemary Said, wife of the Syrian-born business man Wafic Said. A bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher was auctioned off for £45,000. 

Almost the entire Cabinet attended the event. James Henderson, the chief executive of the lobbying firm Bell Pottinger, was a member of the organising committee.

Guests dined on smoked duck and chicken rillettes, sea bass and asparagus, followed by chocolate orange truffle cake with Chantilly cream. There was a choice of Spanish and French wines. A source told the Bureau that each guest’s place setting included an individual “pledge card”.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the fact that details of the event emerged so quickly will raise fears among the Tories that they have a “spy in the camp”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high