AN INVESTIGATION by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme has revealed how close major donors can get to the leaders of the main political parties, with a former sleaze watchdog calling certain party fundraising activities potentially “unlawful”.
Sir Alistair Graham has raised concerns about the possible influence a wealthy Russian Conservative donor could have on the party, and criticised Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for appearing to suggest a donor conceals his identity.
In the documentary, businessman Paul Wilmott poses as a potential backer with up to £50,000 to hand over and secures fleeting encounters with Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Mr Clegg. The three parties denied wrongdoing and said all donations had been recorded correctly.
Mr Wilmott, a former hedge fund manager, captures footage at the Conservatives’ fundraising Black and White Ball, an event that the party goes to great lengths to keep shrouded in secrecy.
Foreign minister Hugo Swire is seen hosting an auction at the glamorous event held in the Grosvenor House Hotel, in London, and tells the crowd “we are not saying who the donors are for the lots tonight”.
The Tory minister goes on to make jokes about the MPs’ expenses scandal, telling guests: “It’s quite naff to have Bentleys and Rolls Royces and Ferraris, because anybody could have them. In the good old days of MPs’ expenses, we could have them too, but we don’t any more.”
Individual tickets for the ball cost £1,500 for tables joined by Cabinet ministers, £1,000 for tables with a minister and £500 for a standard table.
Sir Alistair, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, told the party: “Ministers, if they meet somebody formally in their offices, are required to make that information public. Now, this jolly razzmatazz type affair, they don’t have to do that.
“I can’t see why, if they’re doing this sort of thing, they can’t be transparent about it.”
Mr Wilmott gained access to a lunch for donors at the Carlton Club in January where Russian businessman Alexander Temerko, who has given £220,000 to 24 MPs, is seen sitting next to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and boasting that he supports enough MPs “for a change [of] prime minister”.
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