Tory stories

What you need to know about the Tory leadership donors so far...

18th June 2019

In the midst of the second round of voting for the Conservative leader and de facto unelected prime minister, here are seven things we learned about the candidates and their donors.

A company linked to climate denial made a significant donation to Jeremy Hunt

A number of candidates have historic links to climate change denial, or have even flirted with it themselves, but it might surprise you to learn it’s Jeremy Hunt who has the financial backing of a company with strong links to it. Hunt offered up an obligatory nod to our impending planetary extinction in an Observer op-ed over the weekend, in which he touted his green credentials by pointing to his “countless hours working” on Britain’s bid to host the next UN climate summit in 2020.

If both the UK’s and Hunt’s bids are successful, perhaps the then-prime minister could invite one of his backers along to the summit to offer some balance. Terence Mordaunt (no relation to Conservative MP, Penny) is one of the directors at First Corporate Shipping, which donated a not insignificant £25,000 to Hunt’s leadership campaign, but Mordaunt is also a director of the climate-denial think-tank Global Warming Policy Foundation.

While we’re on this, Hunt also used his Observer column inches to bemoan the decline of “liberal, democratic values” around the world. Going further he cites Freedom House, saying 68 countries became less free last year. Hunt neglects to mention that one of the worst-ranked countries on Freedom House’s list is Saudi Arabia. As well as defending Britain’s right to sell arms to Saudi, which are then often put to use in the illegal war against Yemen, another one of Hunt’s backers has links to this un-free wealthy Arab nation.

One of Dominic Raab’s donors has links to an illegal tax evasion scheme

David Gelber of holding company IPGL, which donated £28,980 to Rabb in April, is involved in a limited liability partnership (LLP) with Eclipse Film Partners, which in 2016 lost a five-year legal battle with HMRC over an investment scheme that served as a tax shelter for hundreds of wealthy celebrities, including former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

The partnerships were part of a government initiative to allow tax breaks to investors in the film industry by entitling them to defer payments until the partnership expired — usually about 15 years. While Eclipse argued it was trading film rights, HMRC said it was tax avoidance, and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in HMRC’s favour.

Eclipse Film Partners is operated by Future Capital Partners, which announced last month that it may be going into liquidation.

Rory Stewart is the billionaires’ choice

Lady Grosvenor, Viscount Chelsea, The Earl of Halifax and Ian Fleming’s great-nephew walk into a bar.

This isn’t a joke, it’s the start of a Rory Stewart campaign fundraiser.

The mega-rich typically aren’t rich for no reason — unless you include wealth derived from land bequeathed to their ancestors. They’re typically not in the habit of making mindless investments, or throwing money at things with no hope of return. It stands to reason that donors would expect to see their chosen candidate represent their interests should they get the top job. And if that’s the case, then a Rory Stewart premiership would likely mean a nice and easy ride for the 0.001%.

The chief executive of Vote Leave isn’t backing who you might think

Despite having been an early bookies favourite following his strong — and potentially illegal under international law — stance on Shamima Begum’s citizenship, Sajid Javid has failed to cut through during this campaign and goes into the second round of voting as the rank outsider. Javid made it through round one with just four votes to spare, and with his colleagues fighting campaigns which are more easily reduced down to a single policy stance or gimmick, Javid seems to have been lost among the chaos.

One notable and perhaps surprising backer of the home secretary is campaign svengali Matthew Elliot, chief executive of Vote Leave and founder of the influential Taxpayers’ Alliance lobbying organisation. One might have assumed Johnson or Raab would have attracted this vehement Leaver, but Elliott has been working as Javid’s campaign manager. This is despite Elliot’s aforementioned involvement with the Leave campaign, which culminated in the Electoral Commission ruling that Vote Leave had broken UK electoral law.

Some candidates offered extremely bad value for backers

Who exactly is Mark Harper? That’s been the running joke relating to the former Tory chief whip’s short-lived run for leadership, but anonymity is perhaps the best Harper could have hoped for, being the minister individually responsible for the reviled Go-Home Vans. Having left the contest in the first round after failing to secure enough backers among parliamentary colleagues, there’s little danger of Harper escaping this anonymity any time soon.

There are at least three people in Britain who must be aware of who Harper is though, as they gave him a combined £13,500 in March and April.

Of the other early drop-outs, neither Hancock, Leadsom or McVey had attracted any donations to their leadership campaigns as of the 3 June entry into the MPs’ register of financial interests.

In terms of value for money though, Dominic Raab seems likely to turn out as the worse investment. Despite having attracted more in donations going into June than any other candidate, and at various points being listed as the bookies favourite, the former Brexit secretary seems unlikely to get past the next round of voting, but even if he does, he’s been all but written off for a spot in the final two. At time of writing, Betfair Exchange lists Raab’s chances of being the next PM as 79/1. Worth a fiver flutter, maybe, but not £125,827.

There’s foreign-linked money swirling around some candidates’ coffers

Despite the fact that since last year Tory donations have been plummeting faster than the pound, there are still plenty of billionaires willing to send money to the nasty party. And with Brexit hurtling towards us like an extinction event, Britain’s international standing is currently being questioned.

There is no Conservative grassroots campaign, only the mega-rich with international interests propping up the next Prime Minister. Donors only have to be UK residents to donate but that doesn’t mean they don’t have connections to arms dealing in Saudi Arabia or Vladimir Putin on their facebook friends list.

We could see a vote on Fox Hunting if Boris Johnson gets in

One of Johnson’s donors is former Master of the Hunt for the Isle of Wight, Johan Christofferson. Christofferson is crazy for hunting and had previously donated to Tory MPs who have supported repealing Labour’s ban on the bloodsport.

Recently, Johnson has shown more progressive views than Christofferson, who has been investigated for breaking laws around hunting, by talking up conservationism in his Telegraph column and by dating environmentalist Carrie Symonds, but let’s not forget this is a man who said fox-hunting should be made legal in London to deal with urban foxes.

Former candidate Andrea Leadsom has previously backed a return of fox hunting and has since thrown her support behind Johnson. Would a Johnson cabinet fight for more fox hunting, despite an overwhelming lack of public support? That seems to be how Tories chose prime ministers, so why not?

Also a part of our Tory leadership coverage

Where are the Tory leadership hopefuls getting their campaign money?

Foreign links to the Tory leadership election

Rory Stewart: The billionaire’s choice

18th June 2019