The Liberal Democrats plan to woo "wealthy celebrities with ideals" in a campaign that they hope will raise more than £20m before the next election.
The party's leaders are preparing to hire professional fund-raisers who raise millions for charities to attract rich, disaffected Tory and Labour voters and people who have voiced support for the Liberal Democrats in the past.
The party hope that the campaign, which is modelled on Labour's major donor programme, will double its funds. This includes not only its annual income of £2.5m, which is raised almost exclusively through small donations from party activists, but also its budget for general election campaigns, which this year came to about £3m. The extra money will pay for more advertising and campaign tools.
The party is concerned that sympathetic figures – including Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop – have been poached by opposition parties because they have been neglected. Ms Roddick, who made a speech at the 1994 Liberal Democrat conference and said she voted for the party, was quickly pursued by Labour and ended up speaking at its conference in 1997.
Others among those the Liberal Democrats have noted have previously voiced support for the party include the DJ Andy Kershaw, the comedian Dave Allen, the actor Edward Woodward and Claire Rayner, the agony aunt who defected from Labour this week after 50 years.
But the party intends to refuse donations from individuals and companies it does not regard as ethical, including tobacco firms and Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, whose offer of funding has already been turned down. "We are looking at people of principle with a bit of idealism," Matthew Taylor, the Treasury spokesman, said. "We are looking to involve people who want to see change in the British political system."
As part of the campaign, potential donors will be invited to contribute to the debate about policy development and long-term campaigns, and also offered access to leading MPs.
"We have become far more professional in everything we are doing," said Edward Davey, another Treasury spokesman. "Raising money professionally is just part of the process."
Yesterday the comedian Sandi Toksvig fronted the conference's fund-raising drive with a routine that poked fun at the Tory front-bench line-up.
The party's treasurer, Reg Clark, said it had not traditionally excelled at attracting wealthy donors. "The Liberal Democrats are good at eccentrics but not too good at eccentric millionaires," he said. "If you see one, be nice to him."Reuse content