Aristocratic billionaires are backing Rory Stewart but what does that mean?

18th June 2019

His style of campaigning has tried to portray a kind of grassroots, DIY-brand of insurgent new-Toryism. His willingness to just get out there and chat to “real people” and his undoubted eloquence have endeared him mostly to those outside the electorate of this campaign.

Whether this effect has reached beyond the bounds of political Twitter and into the country proper is yet to be seen, but the likes of James O’Brien and other liberal darlings have been notably impressed.

But who’s backing him? Well, if the Tories are the party of the 1%, Stewart is the candidate of the 0.001%.

Buzzfeed News revealed Stewart has received significant financial support for his leadership bid from billionaire Russian financier Lev Mikheev, and Khaled Said, son of a billionaire Syrian Saudi political fixer, who each contributed £10,000 in May.

Said’s father Wafic is the 69th (nice! — ed) richest man in Britain, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, perhaps best known for helping broker a landmark arms deal between Saudia Arabia and the Thatcher government in the Eighties. A long-time supporter of the Conservatives, Said donated large amounts to the party throughout the Nineties, until foreign donors were banned, and donations made by close family members after this led to an investigation by the Electoral Commission in 2009.  

Wafic’s son Khaled Said is eligible to donate and is also a director of Turquoise Mountain Trading, along with Stewart’s wife Shoshana Clark Stewart. Turquoise Mountain Trading connects luxury boutique British and European brands with artisanal craftspeople working in Afghanistan to create jewellery, rugs and other products.

To focus on foreign backers would risk missing another trend among Stewart’s supporters though. In response to the Buzzfeed story, a spokesperson for Stewart stressed his support comes from a “genuinely broad base” and as an example of this, cited “an English beef farmer” as one significant donor.

“We have placed a cap of £10,000 on any donation, and this is the only campaign with a genuinely broad base, including people from the world of sport, theatre, agriculture and technology. The minority of contributions are from finance.”

According to the MP’s register of interests, Stewart has received £59,500 in donations since January 2019 from eight sources. Aside from Mikheev and Said, his donors include members of the two richest aristocratic families in Britain — a former Lehman Bros financier, the Earl of Halifax, and the film-producer great-nephew of Bond author Ian Fleming, who rears English Longhorn cattle.  

Edward C Chelsea, and Edward and William Cadogan 

The Cadogan family, headed by Edward Charles Cadogan, the 8th Earl Cadogan and Viscount Chelsea, preside over one of the most valuable property portfolios in the world, the bulk of which comprises of 93 acres in London’s Kensington and Chelsea borough. They’ve held most of this land, as well as their titles, since the 18th century. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, they’re the second richest aristocratic family in Britain, and 20th overall, with a fortune estimated at around £6.7bn.

In terms of donations earmarked for Stewart’s leadership campaign, only Edward Cadogan has donated, offering up £10,000 last month. Interestingly though, The Hon. William Cadogan, Edward’s younger brother, donated £3,000 toward the cost of Stewart’s constituency work back in January. His donation was preceded by that of an Edward C Chelsea, who gave £6,000 for the same purpose. Though unconfirmed, it seems highly likely this came from Edward Charles Cadogan, using his titular name, Chelsea, in place of his family name, to make Edward C Chelsea. There’s every chance this is a harmless admin error, because there’s clearly no general rule against taking donations of more than £10,000 from one individual. Though it’s worth noting Stewart has a self-imposed £10,000 maximum donation rule, which if followed might have prevented him from taking Edward Cadogan’s £10,000 donation last month.

Cadogan Square, named for and owned by the Cagodans, is one of the most expensive residential areas in Britain 📷 Paul Leonard

After Brexit, rising inequality is one of the major issues any new PM will have to try and address. One potential solution to the inequality problem is a major shake-up of the tax system to include a wealth tax. Some, like Conservative peer David Willetts, argue this would be fairer, lead to a more dynamic economy and ultimately prevent the kind of wealth-hoarding that has allowed certain families to maintain stratospheric wealth over centuries, without contributing much to the economy, and while paying a relatively small amount of tax compared to their wealth.

This phenomenon is evidenced in the Sunday Times list of the highest tax-payers in Britain. Despite their wealth being almost three times more than that of sportswear magnate Stephen Rubin and family, the Cadogans only paid £26.4m in tax in 2017, compared with the Rubins’s £181.6m.

With backers whose wealth is more a quirk of history than a product of entrepreneurship, it’s not difficult to foresee a prime minister Stewart shun the kind of policy which would see most of his backers — and social circle — begin to pay vastly more tax.

Edwina Snow nee Grosvenor

Edwina Snow’s philanthropy work and campaigning for prison reform mark her out as maybe the single nicest Tory donor, and with Stewart having spent time as prisons minister, the link between the two is relatively clear. Snow clearly has an interest in politics more generally, having previously donated significant amounts to the Women’s Equality Party.

Snow’s — or to use her proper title, Lady Grosvenor’s —  family are the richest aristocrats in Britain, and 14th richest overall according to the Sunday Times Rich List, with a combined fortune of £10.6bn. Most of this is held in a family trust controlled by Snow’s 28-year-old younger brother,  Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor.

Stewart wants to close tax loopholes, but only some 📷 Mukhatir

Speaking to the Times Red Box podcast earlier this month, Stewart attempted to put a little flesh on the bones of his candidacy by staking out a few policies he feels strongly about. “No more knighthoods for people who don’t pay British taxes,” he said.

There’s no disputing the Grosvenor family pays income and capital gains tax, as they should. And the family trust which holds the majority of their fortune will pay up to 6% tax every 10 years (the exact amount will depend on whether it is structured so as to receive exemptions to pay a reduced rate), thanks to Britain’s highly generous inheritance trust laws, which have allowed families like the Grosvenors to hold on to massive fortunes amassed over hundreds of years. Typically, inheritance tax is charged at 40% on anything more than £325,000, but when Grosvenor’s father died in 2017 the £9bn or so he left to young “Hughie” went largely untouched by HMRC.

It seems likely that even if the taxman had carved off a sizeable chunk of the family fortune at that stage, Snow would have still managed the meagre £5,000 she contributed to Stewart’s leadership campaign. But one wonders if Stewart’s strong feelings about Britain’s elite contributing their fair share would see him look at those who manage to work around inheritance as well as income tax were he to enter number 10.

Robert Laycock

It seems likely Robert Laycock is the humble British beef farmer Stewart’s spokesperson alluded to in a response to Buzzfeed News. Laycock rears grass-fed English Longhorn cattle from English Farm in Nuffield and donated a meaty £10,000 to Stewart’s war-chest. 

Laycock’s day-to-day occupation might seem to mark him as an odd one out among Stewart’s backers, a majority of whom come from particularly wealthy backgrounds and work in finance or property. But though Laycock’s family might not be quite so well-storied as that of the Duke of Westminster, or the Cadogans of Chelsea, his lineage does tie him rather closely to the upper classes.

Creating one of the planets most lucrative characters leaves you with a few bob for your kids 📷 SchroCat

His mother, Lucy Fleming, is an actor and the niece of James Bond author and British intelligence officer Ian Fleming. Along with her sister, Fleming has controlled the Fleming Estate for some time, and as her eldest son, Laycock stands to inherit this position. Fleming told The Independent in 2012 that her sons Robert and Diggory are “in the family business now”, and Robert Laycock’s occupation is listed as “film producer” on Companies House.

Laycock himself has a low media profile, but it seems his penchant for animals extends beyond the bovine. In 2011 he was caught in a fierce bidding war for an elephant at a charity auction in London. It was, in fairness, made out of grass.

Charles Wood

Little information is available about Charles Wood, and Stewart’s team haven’t yet confirmed our suspicions, but it seems likely Wood is in fact the 3rd Earl of Halifax, a former hereditary peer who was axed from the Lords with the passing of the House of Lords Act in 1999. The second Earl on Stewart’s list of backers, Wood gave Stewart £3,000 in May. 

Tom Swerling

With a glittering career in finance already behind him at a relatively tender age, director of Barclays Capital Equity Markets and former Lehman Bros employee Tom Swerling likely wouldn’t be the least wealthy person on many lists, but such is the stock of Stewart’s support. Swerling gave Stewart £2,500 in May towards the costs of his leadership campaign.

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

7 things we learned about the Tory candidates from their donations

Header Image 📷 Foreign and Commonwealth Office

18th June 2019