Andy McSmith's Diary: Tories’ Russian roulette with canvassed donations


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A Russian tycoon who is presumed to have paid £28,000 for a portrait of Margaret Thatcher in a fund-raising auction will get his money back – not because there is anything wrong with the portrait, or because he does not want it, but because the Conservative Party should not have let him buy it.

Money raised for a political party in an auction counts as a political donation under electoral law. The law does not allow parties to accept donations from foreign nationals, and puts the onus on them to check the source of any money they receive.

The painting was bought during the Tories’ summer party in July last year. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism spotted that the registered purchaser was an IT firm based on the Park Place estate, near Henley on Thames. That estate was bought by a former president of the Bank of Moscow, Andrei Borodin, for £140m – making it, reputedly, the most expensive home in Britain.

The firm was registered as being run by Mr Borodin’s personal assistant. The banker was granted asylum in Britain after falling out with the Putin regime, but is not a UK citizen. Nor is his former PA. The bureau challenged the donation, and the Electoral Commission has ordered the Tories to hand the money back.

The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore is now demanding full closure of all contacts between the Tories and the fugitive tycoon. “This raises serious questions over the Tory Party’s funding,” she said. “The Tories’ re-election campaign is bankrolled by a dwindling group of elite donors. We need more transparency over Tory funding.”

Brand finds his Nietzche

Russell Brand has explained the long and deep thought process that led him to support independence in last month’s Scottish referendum campaign. He has told Time Out: “If I see David Cameron on my TV telling me to do something, I listen to what he says, and go: ‘F***ing hell! The opposite!’” What a philosopher!

Ukip’s Alan Partridge

“Mike Read has worked for the BBC for several decades. He’s one of the corporation’s great stars,” Nigel Farage exclaimed on the corporation’s World at One programme, as he defended the atrocious “Ukip calypso” with which Read hopes to pollute the music charts. Mike Read has an afternoon show on BBC Radio Berkshire. He is Ukip’s Alan Partridge.

A salutary warning

A nice email arrived today from Stephan Shakespeare, who runs the polling company YouGov, apologising for “any inconvenience” caused by a previous YouGov message, which addressed me as “Alec”. A computer glitch caused a load of people to get “Dear Alec” emails. That did not inconvenience me at all, but I was slightly put out that the follow-up email addressed me as “Dear Salutation”. Honestly, I would rather be an Alec than a Salutation.

Peer pressure

I can scarcely wait for this morning’s by-election result. Not Rochester and Strood – that’s next month. This was an election for a seat in the House of Lords.

Yes, some peers are elected. They are the ones who fill the 92 places still allocated to hereditary peers after the rest were evicted in 1999. Lord Methuen, one of the original 92, died in July. Fifteen men competed for his empty seat, each the holder of an aristocratic title. (No women, of course: titles generally pass down the male line.)

Who will the winner be? Will it be the third Earl of Oxford and Asquith, the 14th Viscount, or the 15th Lord Napier and Ettrick? If not, who? It is like the frisson of excitement you get when you open a new tin of emulsion.