Ashcroft's donations to individual candidates upsets Tory leadership

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Indy Politics

Twenty four Tory candidates were paid a total of £161,840 by the Tory benefactor Lord Ashcroft in a snub to Michael Howard's Conservative campaign headquarters.

Twenty four Tory candidates were paid a total of £161,840 by the Tory benefactor Lord Ashcroft in a snub to Michael Howard's Conservative campaign headquarters.

Allies of Lord Ashcroft said he was not funding a "party within a party" but his decision to offer donations directly to Conservative candidates has rattled the Tory leadership.

The cash donations that have been channelled through one of his companies, Bearwood Corporate Services, were revealed yesterday in a report on political donations by the Electoral Commission.

A source close to Lord Ashcroft, who was nominated for his peerage by the former Tory leader William Hague, denied claims he was creating his own "Tory fiefdom" and insisted he was giving donations to candidates with business plans that had impressed him.

Lord Ashcroft, a former Tory party treasurer, has included a number of prominent Eurosceptic candidates including Peter Bone, in Wellingborough. Other constituencies that have received donations from him include Stafford, Edinburgh Pentlands, Hastings and Rye, Gillingham, and Enfield North.

Lord Ashcroft ruffled feathers in the party when he asked for the repayment of £500,000 of a £2m loan. He has since been asked for a further loan of £2m, and the loan of his private jet for Mr Howard's election campaign. He has not yet given a definitive answer.

Other prominent Tory donors in the final quarter of last year were Peter Stringfellow, the nightclub owner, who gave £2,750 individually and £8,000 as a company donation; Frederick Forsyth, the writer, who donated £10,000; Sir Tim Rice who gave £7,750 and Southend Football Club, which donated £6,500.

Regular major donors to the Tories include Stuart Wheeler, the former chairman of the spread-betting company IG Group, who donated £200,000 in the final quarter of last year; George Magan, the banker, who gave £325,417, and Lord Sainsbury who gave £100,000.

Tory donations totalled £4.6m, but Labour gained £5m, largely from the trade unions. The figures show that the Labour Party was paid £10.8m during the year by the unions out of a total £15m.

Individual donors to Labour include Lord Drayson, whose company PowderJect Pharmaceuticals won contracts worth millions of pounds to provide smallpox vaccine to the NHS, donated £500,000 matching the sum he gave Labour earlier in 2004; and Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the philanthropist and retired millionaire businessman, who donated a sum of £500,000 to the party.

An unexpected donor was the Great North Eastern Railways, which is recorded donating £220 in cash or kind to Labour Party funds.

The Liberal Democrats received £1.1m in donations for the final quarter of last year including a £250,000 gift from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. Tesco stores donated £6,286 to the party.

The UK Independence Party, which lost its main donor Paul Sykes after a row over Robert Kilroy-Silk's bid for the leadership last year, took in £63,081, of which just £8,170 was cash.

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