IDS critic donates £500,000 to Tories

Stuart Wheeler, the betting mogul who helped precipitate the fall of Iain Duncan Smith, has backed the appointment of new Tory leader Michael Howard with a £500,000 donation, figures published yesterday show.

The multimillionaire businessman provoked a crisis of confidence among Conservative Party backers in October by declaring that the case for removing Mr Duncan Smith was "absolutely overwhelming". His intervention, claiming that it was the "duty" of Conservative backbenchers to amass the 25 signatures needed to provoke a challenge to Mr Duncan Smith, led other donors to express similar disquiet. Within days, Mr Duncan Smith had been removed.

Figures from the Electoral Commission showed that Mr Wheeler, who gave the party £5m at the last election, donated £504,000 within weeks of Mr Howard taking control. The gift helped the party nearly double its cash donations in the last three months of 2003 compared with the same period in 2002.

The Conservatives received £1,607,797.38 cash in the final quarter of last year, up from £886,039.81 during the same period in 2002. Non-cash support for the party also increased, from £141,015.61 to £275,399.28.

The author Frederick Forsyth was also among major Tory donors, giving £44,250.

The figures also show another large donation to Labour from the businessman Christopher Ondaatje, who gave the party £1m in December, after handing Labour £2m in 2001.

The late publisher Lord Hamlyn left Labour £500,000 to help pay off the mortgage on its party headquarters. Lord Hamlyn's widow promised a £1m donation to be paid in two instalments, to be used to help pay off the Labour Party's £5m mortgage on its new headquarters in Old Queen Street, Westminster.