Shouting ‘Len McCluskey’ at Ed Miliband several times at PMQs last week got Cameron several good headlines. It may be a short-lived success. Many people would have thought, "Who funds the Tories?" Typically they are less transparent than the Unions who have to record all their contributions. In fact it appears theTories go to some lengths to disguise the amount they receive from big donors. Aditya Chakrabortty, writing in the Guardian today explained:
“Through their forensic investigation into Tory funding, published just after the last general election, Stephen Crone and Stuart Wilks-Heeg discovered that some of the largest contributors would give a few hundred thousand: big, but not big enough to raise eyebrows. But then a funny thing could be spotted in the accounts: their wives and other family members would chip in, as well as their business ventures.
Take the JCB billionaire Sir Anthony Bamford, one of Cameron's favourite businessmen and a regular guest on the PM's trade missions abroad. Between 2001 and summer 2010, Wilks-Heeg and Crone found donations from Anthony Bamford, Mark Bamford, George Bamford, JCB Bamford Excavators, JCB Research, and JCB World Brands. Tot that up and you get a contribution to the Conservative party from the Bamford family of £3,898,900. But you'd need to be an expert sleuth with plenty of time and resources to tot it up.
One family: nearly £4m. Wilks-Heeg and Crone found that 15 of these families or "donor groups" account for almost a third of all Tory funding. They enjoy trips to Chequers, dinners in Downing Street and a friendly prime ministerial ear. Lord Irvine Laidlaw stuffed over £6m into Conservative pockets over a decade and, one of his former staffers told the Mail, liked to boast about his influence over party leaders: "William's [Hague] in my pocket".
Perhaps you're wondering why the Tories talked so tough on banking reform before election but have done so little since. That may have something to do with the money the City gives to them. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in 2010 donations from financial services accounted for over half of all Tory funding.
Three years ago, spread-betting boss Stuart Wheeler brazenly told MPs that "a party is going to take more notice of somebody who might give them lots of money than somebody who won't". He should know; he once gave the Conservatives a single donation of £5m. And certainly, the City has plenty to show for its investment. Across Europe, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and others are pushing ahead with plans for a Tobin tax or a small levy on financial transactions to start next year. Britain, on the other hand, is part of a small band of refuseniks, along with such other giants of financial regulation as Malta and Luxembourg.
One of the mysteries of this government is why George Osborne made a priority of cutting the 50p tax for the super-rich, thus handing the opposition a stick to beat him with. One possible answer to that is suggested by an FT report from November 2011 on hedge-fund donations to Osborne's party. "There probably aren't many votes in cutting the 50p top rate of tax," one major hedge fund donor told the paper, "but among those that give significant amounts to the party, it's a big issue, and that's probably why it's a big issue for the party too". Just four months later, at the next budget, the 50p rate was scrapped.”
So not only are the extremely wealthy paying huge sums into Tory coffers, they are getting something for their cash. Perhaps our current government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich should be renamed a ‘cashocracy?’
Consider how NewLabour treated the unions when in government and it is clear the unions did not get much in return. They could learn a lot from the Tories.