‘Concentrated power’: 25% of Tory Party’s individual donations come from just 10 people

Exclusive: Party has received £10m from tiny group of super-rich backers since Boris Johnson became PM

Adam Forrest
Sunday 08 August 2021 10:02 BST
<p>Boris Johnson</p>

Boris Johnson

Just 10 wealthy people account for a quarter of all donations made by individuals to the Conservative Party since Boris Johnson became prime minister, according to new analysis by The Independent.

The 10 super-rich donors – nine of whom are men – have given a combined sum of just over £10m to the Tories since Mr Johnson entered Downing Street, equalling more than 25 per cent of the £38.6m received from all individuals in the past two years.

Fears have been raised about the power held by the very wealthiest Tory donors after it emerged last week that a group known as the “advisory board” had been developed to connect the party’s biggest financial backers with ministers.

Campaign groups said The Independent’s analysis – based on the latest data from the Electoral Commission – showed the “concentrated power” of a small number of big donors.

Darren Hughes, chief executive of Electoral Reform Society said: “These figures show just how concentrated donor power is in UK politics. Political debate shouldn’t be something bought by a few very wealthy individuals.

“The fact that a small group have provided such a large amount of political funding and gained the potential influence that comes with it is of great concern.”

Calling for strict new limits on the amount donors can give, Mr Hughes added: “It’s time to fix the rot and restore faith in politics. We need to explore a cap on donations [and] greater public funding to bring us into line with most advanced democracies.”

Alex Runswick, senior advocacy manager at the Transparency International UK campaign group, added: “These revelations underline concerns that great wealth can secure a privileged audience in UK politics.

“This dependence on a small number of wealthy donors risks shaping policy and decisions in their favour rather than national interest, so the government should legislate to take big money out of politics.”

The data shows most of the 10 biggest individual Tory backers since Mr Johnson became prime minister in July 2019 made their fortune in finance or property.

One of the 10 most generous donors is Jamie Reuben, co-owner of the Reuben Brothers property empire, who has given almost £700,000 to the Tory party thus far during the Johnson era.

His ties with the Tories came under scrutiny earlier this year when it emerged his company was a co-investor with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) in last year’s failed bid to buy Newcastle United.

Leaked messages from September 2020 revealed that the prime minister had asked his adviser, Sir Edward Lister, to look into the chances of the deal being revived. When Sir Edward said that he was hopeful the deal could be done, Mr Johnson reportedly replied: “Brilliant.”

Other wealthy Tory donors on the top 10 list include online trading tycoon Peter Cruddas, who has given the party just over £870,000 in the past two years. Mr Cruddas was handed a peerage last year – sparking accusations of “cronyism” from Labour.

In June the anti-corruption campaign the Good Law Project launched legal action over the peerage, claiming that Mr Johnson ignored the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Committee against making the businessman a Lord.

The single biggest individual donor since Mr Johnson came to power is Malcolm Healey – the retail tycoon whose company owns Wren Kitchens. He has handed the Tory Party £2m in the past two years.

Labour MP Anneliese Dodds, the party’s chair, said the Conservatives had “serious questions to answer” about their dependence on big donors.

The frontbencher told The Independent: “We need to know why the Tories have become so reliant on huge donations from a select group of super-wealthy individuals – and what it is that these elite donors are being given in return.

“Boris Johnson has created a cash for access culture in the Conservative Party ... He needs to break his silence and explain what he plans to do to ensure there isn’t one rule for senior Conservatives and their cronies, and another rule for everyone else.”

Last week the Financial Times reported that an “advisory board” donor club, featuring members who donated at least £250,000, was developed to connect Tory supporters with senior figures, claiming meetings have been held with Mr Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The Tories have since refused to reveal which donors have paid to be members of the group, or which ministers have attended meetings after Labour called for transparency.

Leading donor Mohamed Amersi told the FT the group is “like the very elite Quintessentially clients membership: one needs to cough up £250,000 per annum or be a friend of Ben”.

The name was a reference to the Conservatives’ co-chairman Ben Elliot, founder of the luxury concierge service Quintessentially who also reportedly helped set up the donor network.

Mr Amersi sits just outside the list of top 10 donors in the past two years, having given £189,000 in the Johnson era. Most of the money – £99,500 – was paid for a breakfast date with Mr Johnson after he won an “auction” at a party dinner event.

Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling claimed that government policy “is in no way influenced by the donations the party receives – they are entirely separate”.

She said: “All political parties raise money and accept donations in order to pay their staff and campaign in elections.”

Earlier this week, cabinet minister Grant Shapps said large donations to the Tory Party from wealthy people should not be “painted as some sort of immoral act”.

The transport secretary also said the British public would not welcome any new limits on the amount donors could give – since he claimed it could mean more money coming from the public purse to fund political parties.

In 2011 the Committee on Standards on Public Life recommended that political donations were capped at £10,000 per donor, per party, per year – but the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government passed up the chance to reform the system.

Campaign groups said it was time for clear limits on the size of donations, urging MPs from all parties to consider new rules to limit the potential for corruption.

“Without limits on the size of political donations, political parties will continue to fail to build broader, more democratic bases of financial support,” said Ms Runswick of Transparency International UK.

“Clearly money does buy access, and the perception that this secures undue influence corrodes trust in our political system.”

Top 10 individual Tory donors since Boris Johnson entered No 10:

  • 1. Malcolm Healey – £2m

Owner of Wren Kitchens’s parent company West Retail Group.

  • 2. John Gore – £1.4m

Theatre production tycoon.

  • 3. Peter Hargreaves – £1m

Co-founder of financial services giant Hargreaves Lansdown.

  • 4. Jonathan Wood – £1m

Founder of hedge fund SRM Global.

  • 5. Peter Wood – £1m

Founder of Direct Line and Esure insurance companies.

  • 6. Peter Cruddas – £872,000

Founder of trading company CMC Markets.

  • 7. Sir Ehud Sheleg – £832,000

Tory party treasurer who was given knighthood under Theresa May.

  • 8. Lubov Chernukhin – £681,000

Ex-banker whose husband was minister for Vladimir Putin.

  • 9. Jamie Reuben – £639,000

Property tycoon whose company was part of failed bid for Newcastle United.

  • 10. Howard Shore – £609,000

Founder of finance firm Shore Capital and Brexit supporter.

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