Conservative headquarters received more money in 2013 from one widow’s estate than from its entire membership subscriptions.
New figures released by the Electoral Commission reveal the extent to which Conservative party machine nationally relies on the generosity of wealthy donors. The most generous, last year, was Violet Baker, nicknamed the "Wicked Widow" in the tabloid press after she left £769,226.80 to the Tories in her will, and nothing to her Labour voting relatives.
In the same year Conservative head office received just £749,000 from membership subscriptions. That figure was only a fraction of the £5.7 million Labour received centrally from its paid-up members, lower than the Liberal Democrats’ £850,000, and almost level with UKIP, who received £714,492 from subscriptions. But the figures are not directly comparable, because a large part of what Conservative Party members pay to join the party is retained by the local constituency associations and only a fraction goes to head office.
The overall figures released yesterday show that Labour outspent all the other political parties during 2013 and still had millions left over. The party’s total income in 2013 was £33.3 million, of which they spent £27.9 million. The trade unions contributed over a third of Labour’s income, paying £8 million in affiliation fees and donating at least another £4 million. The largest union, Unite, paid £3 million to affiliate, and donated £2.4 million either to the Labour Party centrally to local constituency parties. But Unite has decided to halve its affiliation in the current year, at a cost to Labour of £1.5 million.
Labour has fewer big individual donors than when Tony Blair was party leader. The most generous, in 2013, was the businessman John Mills, who gave over £1.6 million. The writer Ken Follett and his ex-MP wife Barbara gave more than £70,000 between them, while the Labour peer Alan Sugar gave over £52,000. David Sainsbury, who gave millions in the Blair years, now channels his donations into pressure groups that uphold the Blair legacy, such as the Movement for Change
The Conservatives had an income of £25.3 million, of which £16.8 million came from donations, and spent £23.5 million. Big donors included John Griffin, the boss of Addison Lee, who gave £500,000.
A very large proportion of the party’s wealth is held by the local associations in the Conservative heartlands. In Tunbridge Wells, where the local Tory MP Greg Clark has a majority of 15,576, the party raised £716,656 last year – about 25 times what electoral law would allow them to spend locally in a general election campaign. In the Cities of London and Westminster, where Mark Field has a majority of 11,076, the party received £318,416 – including £1,900 from Lubov Cherukhin, the banker wife of Russia’s former deputy finance minister. She also gave £1,850 to the Conservatives in Westminster North, a marginal seat now held by Labour.
None of the other parties came anywhere near matching the wealth of the big two. The Liberal Democrats had an income of just over £7.3 million, and spent just under £6.9 million. UKIP’s income was a little under £2.5 million, of which the party spent all but £18,000.
Two parties spent more than they received. The SNP had the biggest gap in its finances, having spent nearly £2.8 million, from an income barely over £2 million. The Ulster Unionists overspent by £95,000 out of an income of £319,000.
Peter Wardle, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission said: “We are pleased that, for the third year running, all the larger political parties have submitted their accounts to us by the statutory deadline. It is essential that parties continue to be transparent with their financial information so voters can see exactly how they are funded and how this money is spent.”