Tory minister: £55,000? That's so cheap even benefit claimants could afford it

Hugo Swire was secretly recorded mocking benefit claimants at the Conservative party's exclusive Black and White fundraising gala last month

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Indy Politics

A Conservative minister mocked benefit claimants while playing the role of auctioneer at the party’s glamorous and exclusive fundraising dinner.

A secret recording has emerged of Hugo Swire, a foreign office minister, trying to flog off an item in the auction during the party’s Black and White gala last month.

In it he joked that even someone claiming benefits could afford to donate £55,000 to boost the Tory party coffers.

Attempting to increase the bidding, Mr Swire – a former director at auctioneers Sotherby’s – is seen trying to encourage someone sitting next to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to increase the bidding.

He is seen saying: “£60,000 … Ian, persuade him … He’s not on benefits is he? Well if he is, then he can afford it … £55,000?”.

During another lot Mr Swire made a joke about how the “good old days” of MPs’ expenses were over.

“It’s quite naff to have Bentley’s and Rolls Royce and Ferraris because anybody could have them’, he says.

“In the good old days of MP’s expenses we could have them too, but we don’t anymore.”

The Tory-led Coalition has made wide-ranging reforms to the benefits system, including a £26,000 cap on the amount each household can claim in benefits – equivalent to £500 a week – and scrapped the spare room subsidy.

David Cameron has pledged to cut the benefit cap further (AFP/Getty)

The Conservatives have pledged to impose a further cap on benefits, to £23,000, in order to fund three million apprenticeships if it wins the election in May.

Items up for auction at Mayfair’s five-star Grosvenor House hotel included a shoe-shopping session with Theresa May, dinner with Boris Johnson, a £50,000 JCB digger, a weekend’s pheasant shooting trip and a bust of Margaret Thatcher, which sold for £210,000.

Party donors had already paid up to £15,000 per table for a place at the secretive event, where dinner was scheduled to go on for three-and-a-half hours with speeches by Mr Cameron and the Conservative chair Lord Feldman.

The secretive nature of the fundraising event was criticised by Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the committee on Standards in Public Life. 

He said: “I can’t see why, if they're doing this sort of thing, they can’t be transparent about it and say who was there and who bought what particular auction item.”