Chancellor urges super rich to bankroll campaign in Stockton South constituency

George Osborne urged super-rich Tory backers at a lavish black-tie gala to fund a campaign in a vital North-East constituency.

The knife-edge Stockton South seat – where Conservative James Wharton has a wafer-thin majority of 332 – took centre-stage at the dinner in Knightsbridge, central London.

Mr Wharton introduced the Chancellor at the event, organised by the secretive United & Cecil club, believed to have raised at least £130,000 for party coffers.

In return, Mr Osborne is reported to have told the guests: “Does anyone realise the significance of the number 332?”.

After explaining 332 was the size of Mr Wharton’s majority, the Chancellor is said to have urged guests to recognise it could only be defended with their financial support.

One source at the dinner, costing £250-per-head, said: “He said we need money to save James and others like him.”

The United & Cecil club is controversial because critics see it as a vehicle for getting around rules to ensure donations to Westminster candidates are transparent.

The Electoral Commission requires the identity of any donor giving more than £1,500 directly to a political party to be declared.

However, donors funnelling money through “unincorporated associations” – such as the United & Cecil club – need only be identified if they give more than £7,500 in any calendar year.

One calculation is that the United & Cecil club has donated around £300,000 to the individual Tory associations since 2010 – mostly in key seats, such as Stockton South.

However, the Conservatives hit back by arguing Labour is bankrolled by the trades unions and that all donations through its clubs comply with the rules.

The Northern Echo asked Mr Wharton to comment on the attention given to his constituency at the gala dinner, but he declined to do so.

Tory sources have previously suggested the Stockton South MP – a “fantastic campaigner on the doorstep” – is not on its 40-strong list of candidates in ultra-marginal seats who will receive extra help.

 However, Mr Wharton’s profile has soared after his, ultimately unsuccessful, backbench Bill to guarantee a referendum on EU membership.

David Cameron attended his  birthday celebrations earlier this year and invited him to Chequers last month.

Other guests included representatives from the global PR firm DDA Consulting, the wealth management company Killik & Co and the property firm Mayfair Estates.

One Tory MP present, Andrew Bridgen, said: “We can’t go to Len McCluskey for another million. This is how we do it.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  17 Oct 2014

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