In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Ostentatious partying and foreign bidders sit badly with Tory cuts

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The Independent Online

Triumphalism is not a very edifying spectacle and it was, by all accounts, the distinct theme of the big Conservative fund-raising shindig held earlier this week at the Hurlingham Club.

Attendees at this elegant soirée in west London were a mixture of rich, very rich and über-rich Tory supporters and, over a dinner of gravadlax and roast duck, accompanied by a decent Sauvignon blanc, they luxuriated in the fact that, for the first time in 18 years, the United Kingdom was governed by a Conservative administration.

A short video was played, showing the moment Ed Balls lost his seat. How they cheered! And when it came to images of the “Ed Stone” – Ed Miliband’s monumental manifestation of his election pledges – the audience whooped and cackled.

It was seemingly a very jolly event, orchestrated by Andrew Feldman, the Tories’ chief fund-raiser, and it put the audience of 700 – who had paid up to £1,000 for a ticket – in a good mood for the main business of the event: to swell the party’s funds.

Mr Feldman is an experienced practitioner in the art of prising open the wallets of the wealthy, and it was he who held the gavel and the microphone for the auction. An exact replica of the “Ed Stone” – oh, what a laugh! – was sold for £130,000, while other items, including a luxury holiday in the Caribbean and a cruise on the Aegean, went for tens of thousands of pounds. All this, however, was a snip compared with the big ticket lot of the evening, which was... wait for it... a signed photograph of the new Conservative Cabinet. Yes, this highly desirable lot went to a lucky bidder for £210,000.

That’s right, in this age of austerity, someone paid about eight times the national average salary for a picture of a load of politicians sitting round a table. And you know what? The photo hasn’t even been taken yet. And you know what else? A second picture is to be made available to the under-bidder at £200,000. So an as yet untaken photograph of limited interest raised £410,000 to enable the party of government to go about their political business.

The identity of the successful bidders is not known, and that’s the point, really. The rules on political donations are very clear – all contributions to the central party worth more than £7,500 have to be declared and only UK-registered companies or individuals are allowed to make donations – but the regulations around the money paid for auction prizes are a little more complicated, and depend on how the prize itself is valued.

The impression given is that this is a way to circumvent the rules, and certainly foreign nationals have something of a track record in this area: at the Tories’ summer party last year, the wife of a Russian billionaire with historic links to Putin paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

But what do the Tories care? They’ve just won the election, and they’re in the honeymoon period of a new government. But the stories of lashings of wine, obscene amounts of money and reckless spending on fripperies doesn’t sound good against a background of belt-tightening and widening inequality. And it does little to raise public opinion of politics and politicians.