Political fundraisers: From shoe shopping with Theresa May to Iron Man Endeavour with Iain Duncan Smith

A Tory auction has raised eyebrows as well as funds. But it's not the first time a party has peddled absurd prizes, says Gillian Orr

Gillian Orr
Tuesday 10 February 2015 20:58
Sole sister: Fancy a shoe-shopping trip with Home Secretary Theresa May?
Sole sister: Fancy a shoe-shopping trip with Home Secretary Theresa May?

Nothing says, "We're all in this together" quite like a £1,500-a-head dinner at a five-star hotel. And so, despite the best efforts of the Tory party to keep the details of its annual shindig hush-hush, some squirm-inducing titbits have emerged about the Conservative Black and White fundraiser that took place on Monday.

Even though a silent auction was supposed to keep the exact prices the lots ended up fetching from going public, happily, some entrepreneurial types managed to leak some specifics to the press.

You can see why David Cameron & Co didn't think it would be a great look to be hobnobbing with bankers this week (as well as business-people and lobbyists), not least those who are happy to spend a reported £220,000 on a week-long trip for 24 to La Fortaleza estate in northern Majorca.

And one can understand why whoever thought spending £210,000 on a small bronze bust of Margaret Thatcher was a good investment might want to remain anonymous.

Other snort-inducing lots included a 10km Iron Man Endeavour with Iain Duncan Smith and a shoe-shopping session with old happy feet herself, Theresa May. And anyone who is comfortable with someone called Bumble Hadden-Paton giving their wardrobe a makeover is likely to be a brave soul.

But these are far from the most absurd things that have been put on the block to raise money for political parties in recent years – as this "top of the lots" selection proves.

Some interns are more equal than others

Perhaps the most controversial year for fundraising was 2011, when it was revealed that the Conservative party was offering up work experience at top City banks and hedge funds to Tory backers for £2,000 a pop.

"This is a crass example of rich Tories buying privilege," said Labour MP Tom Watson. "Most young people could only dream of this opportunity. The Conservatives flog them like baubles and fill their coffers with the profits. It is obscene." That the auction came just weeks after the Government launched its Equality Strategy about internships in a bid to promote diversity only added to the ire.

Pitched battle?

Fresh anger was drawn over the Tory party's reliance on wealthy private donors when it emerged that someone had paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson, which, incidentally, is the same sum that each member of a same-sexed doubles team would take home for winning Wimbledon. Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, Russia's deputy finance minister during Putin's first term in office, netted the prize at the party's summer ball last year, which led to calls for the money to be paid back. Cameron refused.

New balls, please

If tennis is the sport of choice for Tory schmoozers, then Labour tried to keep things real by offering a five-a-side football match against "the shadow cabinet all-stars" just a week after Cameron and Johnson's star lot. Andy Burnham and Jim Murphy were just two of the MPs that were up for grabs up in a dinner hosted by Stephen Fry at the Roundhouse in London. Either there was a lack of enthusiasm about getting sweaty with Ed Balls or just fewer high rollers present but the all-stars only mustered £13,000.

Ed Miliband: no oil painting

As creative types tend to veer towards the left politically, it's not surprising that Labour was able to secure some particularly fine etchings to peddle in 2013. Anish Kapoor donated an untitled painting, while Antony Gormley gave a drawing. The portrait artist Nicola Green donated a print of Barack Obama after following the future president in 2008, which suggests that a shot of Ed on the campaign trail in south Yorkshire might not make for quite the same draw.

Champagne snatcher

When a bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher was auctioned for £45,000 at the Tory fundraiser last year, Labour MP Angela Eagle accused the party of living in a "parallel universe". Andrew Lansley, the then Conservative leader of the House of Commons, retorted by saying it was "not bought for drinking purposes".

Well, thank goodness for that, eh?

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