The Tories in Bournemouth: M&S gives pounds 40,000 lift to party spirits

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The Independent Online
MARKS & SPENCER has renewed its donation of pounds 40,000 to the Conservative Party, senior sources said last night. They said donations also came from Dixons and Hansons, which has raised party hopes that the worst of the recession-led funding boycott may be over.

A spokesman for Marks & Spencer said: 'We believe the party's policies provide for a free-market economy in which business prospers to the benefit of customers and the company.'

The donation came as the party raised pounds 800,000 at this year's conference. A further pounds 1.25m was pledged during the week's fund-raising activities. Funds raised by party constituency supporters during the year went up by pounds 60,000 to pounds 160,000.

The party chairman, Jeremy Hanley, won a standing ovation at the conference for pledging that the money raised by the constituencies would be used to defend marginal seats.

Mr Hanley, who holds the marginal seat of Richmond and Barnes in west London, said the number of agents would be raised by 80 to about 300 to spearhead the party's fightback.

Answering criticism that contributions from the grassroots had been wasted on party bureaucracy, Mr Hanley said: 'For the next two years, I am pledging every penny of the money you pay in quota to Central Office will be directed in full to our work with marginal seats.'

The concentration of effort on the Tory marginals, by Central Office, two-and-a-half years ahead of the general election, underlines the determination of the leadership to reverse the decline in support in its most vulnerable areas. But it will mean that less money will be available for paying off the party's long- standing debts, including a pounds 16m overdraft.

The biggest cheer for Mr Hanley came when he attacked the Liberal Democrats as 'pompous, sanctimonious, hypocritical and the dirtiest campaigners in British politics'.