Matthew Smith 18th June 2019
Who would you put your money on in a six-horse race? In a crowded field, and with candidates trying to sit on the fence as they try to hang around until the latter stages, it’s difficult to see how anyone can overcome Boris Johnson as the current favourite. But uncertainty hasn’t stopped wealthy Conservatives from donating to their favoured candidate — and with such a large field, this could prove a relatively inexpensive way to get their preferred leader into Number 10.
So who is paying for the Conservative leadership candidates’ campaigns, and is there any serious challenge to Johnson as favourite?
It may be surprising that Dominic Raab is currently leading the way with funding, despite being an outsider. In the latest register of members’ financial interests, the former lawyer has declared £125,827 in donations since 1 March. This is largely because the Esher and Walton MP has been donated staff ahead of a leadership bid, including one member from the Arbuthnot Banking Group at a value of £44,258.99 and one from IPGL ltd at a value of £28,980. Those appointments began at the start of March before the leadership election was formally called but many at the time speculated that Raab’s appointments were to prepare for a campaign, so it’s worth these costs considering as part of his charge for number 10.
Beyond Raab, the supposed two front-runners Jeremy Hunt and Johnson are neck-and-neck when it comes to recent donations. At the last publication of the register, Hunt was currently ahead with £103,944.84 of donations with Johnson on £102,000 within the last three months (although Johnson’s total within this parliament is much higher than the rest of the field with £234,000, plus another £37,302 when the cost of visits and gifts are included).
Every member of parliament has 28 days to declare payments to the register, so it’s likely further donations have come to the candidates. Johnson, for example, has not declared any payments since the 24 May so may have been given money for his campaign as it approached the deadline for contenders to declare their candidacy. Also missing from this analysis entirely is Matt Hancock, who hasn’t declared any income since 1 March.
Sajid Javid is third with £75,000 of donations, marking a large gulf between the front-runners and the rest of the field. Rory Stewart has enjoyed a flurry of donations but his £50,000 is currently far behind the more established names. Although, Stewart could be in the same position as Michael Gove, whose £8,500 suggests there are still some donations yet to be declared.
Even with so much up in the air, as the field begins to thin these donations provide an insight into who is likely to succeed May.
The largest cash donation for any candidate is £25,000, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt each getting the sum.
Johnson’s biggest donation is courtesy of Jonathan Wood, a hedge-fund manager who has been a regular donor to the party and has been nicknamed Keyzer Soyze for “his love of a scrap” and called a “hard and calculating man” by a judge. Wood’s previous political donations have included £500,000 to the Leave campaign in 2016, and then £50,000 to Johnson in October for “office and staffing costs”. More recently, he has followed that up with an additional £25,000 for Johnson’s campaign, which many have taken as confirmation the former Mayor of London is the best option for a hard Brexit.
Hunt’s largest donation also comes from some notable Brexiteers. First Corporate Shipping Ltd has given the foreign secretary a substantial donation. The company’s directors include Sir David Ord and Terence Mordaunt, who are both long term Tory donors.
Ord has donated around £1m to the party and was given a knighthood in 2016 for his “political service and service to the South West”, and is part of the Conservative Leader’s Group, a select group of donors that have previously gained access to prime ministers and high ranking members of the cabinet. He has also been a vocal supporter of Brexit, with another business of his, Bristol Port Company, donating £100,000 to Vote Leave. Ord also signed an open letter telling Conservative MPs to reject Theresa May’s deal.
His fellow director Mordaunt (no relation to Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt) also signed that letter and donated £50,000 to the Leave campaign. It’s also interesting that Mordaunt is a director of the climate change sceptic group, the Global Warming Policy Forum.
That pro-Brexit money has left Hunt in a strange position with other donors such as hedge fund manager Andrew Law, a staunch Remainer. During the contest so far, he has already been accused of flip-flopping on his stance on leaving Europe without a deal. Previously he had said the UK could “flourish” without an agreement but now claims leaving without a deal would be “political suicide” for the Conservatives. The donations are unlikely to have persuaded Hunt’s thinking in the leadership race, but it may have given some would-be backers pause.
And what about Raab’s other donations? Despite being the sixth favourite ahead of the MP’s first vote (where he finished fourth), he has been well backed by some wealthy donors, including £10,000 from ex-Carpetright chairman and critic of May, Lord Phillip Harris. He also secured £10,000 donations from Lord Harris’s son Martin Harris, and Dominic Burke, the CEO of insurance group Jardine Lloyd Thompson.
With more donations to declare, it’s becoming clear that even with such a strong favourite, established donors have not been dissuaded from contributing to their preferred potential Prime Minister.
Also a part of our Tory leadership coverage
Matthew Smith 18th June 2019