One in three of the businesspeople who signed a letter supporting Tory economic policy have donated money to the Conservative party, while a fifth were given honours by David Cameron in the last few years an analysis by the Independent reveals.
Among the 103 signatories of the letter, published on the front page of the Daily Telegraph this morning, four are Conservative members of the House of Lords – all ennobled by David Cameron.
The Prime Minister also handed out 18 MBEs, OBEs, CBEs and knighthoods to signatories of the letter over the last parliament.
A total of 32 of the signatories are Conservative donors, having donated a total of £9m to the party when family and company donations are taken into account.
Nine of those who signed the letter had given at least six-figure sums, with the smallest donation still well over a thousand pounds.
One signatory is clothing magnate Nick Wheeler, who invested in the same ‘Icebreaker’ tax avoidance scheme as members of the band Take That.
A tax judge ruled last May that Icebreaker was not a genuine investment scheme and had been set up solely to allow the super-rich to claim income tax relief.
Rooney Anand, who also signed the letter, is the chief executive of the brewery Greene King, which battled HM Revenue and Customs in court over its controversial ‘Project Sussex’ tax planning scheme.
The brewer of Old Speckled Hen pled that the scheme was lawful but lost its second tribunal appeal last year. It is understood the company intends to take the case to the Court of Appeal.
Sir Dick Olver, another signatory, is the chair of defence contractor BAE systems. He was knighted in 2013. BAE was fined £250m by the US government and £30m by the UK government after allegations that it bribed foreign officials to secure deals. The alleged wrongdoing predated Sir Dick’s appointment.
The list of names under the letter is also peppered with major donors to the Conservative party.
Signatory Aidan Heavey is a Tory donor and the chief executive of Tullow Oil. William Hague personally intervened when Tullow faced a £200 million tax bill from Uganda in 2010.
Michael Gutman is a member of the elite Tory donors’ club with direct access to the Prime Minister – having donated more than £50,000 to the party. Telecoms boss Charles Wigoder is on record as having lent the Tories £100,000.
The Conservative peers to have signed the letter include Baroness Shields, a shareholder of Facebook, according to Parliament’s register of interests. Facebook paid almost no UK corporation tax last year despite reporting UK ad revenues of £223 million.
Lord Rose, another Conservative peer, is recorded as a paid advisor to the bank HSBC. Lord Bamford, his company, and his family have in total contributed millions to the Tory war-chest.
Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told the Guardian newspaper that the letter was dreamt up by the Conservatives and did not represent the views of business.
“This is a letter concocted and organised by the Conservative party to appear in a Tory-supporting newspaper signed by mainly Tory donors,” he said.
“Just over 100 businesses have signed it, representing .002 % of the 5m businesses in this country. Some of the people that have signed the letter supported Tony Blair and New Labour in the past but in every election there are people that chop and change at any election.”
Sky News reports that the letter was organised by the Conservative Party, specifically by co-chairman Andrew Feldman reaching out to his contacts.
The Chancellor George Osborne however said the intervention was “unprecedented in any recent general election”.
The 20 signatories who were awarded honours, knighthoods or peerages while David Cameron has been Prime Minister are: John Ayton MBE, Baroness Brady CBE, Peter Cullum CBE, Annoushka Ducas MBE, Sir Charles Dunstone, Philip Green CBE, Michael Gutman OBE, Wendy Hallet MBE, Brent Hoberman CBE, Sir George Iacobescu CBE, Ray Kelvin CBE, Sir Dick Olver, Alan Parker CBE, Tony Bidgley CBE, Nick Robertson OBE, Lord Rose, Baroness Shields OBE, James Wates CBE, Sir Hossein Yassaie and Lord Bamford.
The Conservative donors on the list are Aidan Heavey, Alex Baldock, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Cassie Hutchings, Sir Charles Dunstone, Charles Wigoder, Sir George Iacobescu, George Weston, James Wates, John Elliott, Julian Granville, Lord Bamford, Lord Karan Bilimoria, Malcolm Walker, Michael Gutman, Michael Turner, Moni Varma, Neil Clifford, Nick Jenkins, Nick Leslau, Sir Nigel Rudd, Oliver Hemsley, Paul Walsh, Peter Grauer, Peter Jackson, Ralph Findlay, Robert Walker, Steven Cohen, Tim Oliver, Tony Pidgley, Will Wyatt, Zameer Choudrey.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of any of the signatories.
The letter, signed by 103 business executives, praises Conservative economic policy which it says has “been good for business and has pursued policies which have supported investment and job creation”.
“We believe a change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment. This would send a negative message about Britain and put the recovery at risk," the letter said.
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