Key Conservative benefactor Caledonia Investments forced by shareholders to cut links to party

  • @TheIndyBusiness

One of the Conservatives’ most reliable and vocal supporters has bowed to pressure from its independent shareholders and abandoned the party.

Caledonia Investments, the investment vehicle of the Cayzer shipping dynasty, handed regular cheques over to the Tory party, in particular to individual constituencies, in the run-up to the 2010 general election.

The company’s late chairman, Peter Buckley, even went so far as to publicly attack the former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in a 2008 Caledonia results statement, saying: “Shorn of integrity and economic competence, rooster Brown has even less feathers than rooster Blair and lacks the latter’s knack of preening himself.”

However, that stance proved highly controversial with independent shareholders in the trust. Despite its close association with the Cayzer family, the company, an investment trust that invests in other companies, is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Between 2008 and 2010, it suffered a succession of ever larger dissenting votes at its annual meetings on the issue of political donations.

Information on the Electoral Commission’s database shows they were heard. Since the 2010 election resulted in the creation of the Coalition, the company hasn’t given a penny.

By contrast, the Cayzer Trust Company, which oversees the family’s stake in the trust and is also headquartered at Cayzer House in London, has handed over £67,500.

Caledonia’s regular cheques to David Cameron’s party and its constituency associations during the previous parliament saw nearly three times that amount – £188,000 – donated from the beginning of 2008 until the 2010 general election.

Caledonia notably targeted particular constituencies for its largesse, including Sutton and Cheam, which Philippa Stroud – the driving force behind the Centre for Social Justice, established by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith – lost to the Liberal Democrats by just 1,608 votes after achieving a 1.7 per cent swing in her favour.

Another beneficiary was David Mundell who has, since 2005, been the only Tory to represent a Scottish constituency and who increased his majority to 4,194 at the last election.

For Caledonia to repeat the pattern at the forthcoming election, it would have had to submit a resolution before shareholders at next month’s annual meeting to obtain their permission on donations.

No such motion has been submitted in the company’s notice of its coming AGM.

Dissenting AGM votes are often embarrassing to publicly-listed companies, and usually indicate a high level of unhappiness. Larger shareholders generally only make such moves after first attempting to address the issues in private.

Caledonia has a long and colourful history, which is inextricably linked to the Cayzer family. The clan’s forebear, Sir Charles Cayzer, founded the shipping business, Clan Line Steamers, the world’s largest cargo carrying line, in 1878.

They later diversified their business interests, but Caledonia has overseen the family’s investments for decades. However, there was a spectacular bust-up between two branches of the family in 2002, when dissidents sought to release their funds.

A deal was eventually reached, and the Cayzers remain the biggest single shareholders in the company which still employs family members up to and including its chief executive, Will Wyatt. He is the great-great-grandson of Charles Cayzer and took over from Tim Ingram, who had been the first non-Cayzer to run the company.