An organisation registered at a stables in the Home Counties, with a former tobacco lobbyist for an honorary secretary, is a key weapon in the Conservative Party’s battle to win the next election.
The United & Cecil Club is playing an increasingly crucial role in funding election bids in the most tightly contested constituencies. The club has been used to raise funds for the Conservatives for years and these funds are now being deployed strategically as the party targets United & Cecil Club ahead of the 2015 election.
Since the last election, the organisation has given £282,250 to Conservative candidates – nearly double the amount it has given to Conservative central campaign headquarters. In the first quarter of this year alone, the U&C club has given almost as much to candidates as it did in the whole of last year. Most of the cash is targeted at key swing seats.
Despite its increasingly important role, little is known about the U&C club. Donations to the club tend to be small and so there is no obligation to identify the donors. Only the identities of individuals making donations of more than £7,500 are published by the Election Commission under disclosure rules.
In disclosures made and published by the Electoral Commission the U&C club is registered at an an address in Iver, a village in Buckinghamshire. However, in the parliamentary register, the U&C lists its address as a riding school in Berkshire.
The stables are run by Tim Lord. Lord, a former chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, confirmed to the Bureau that he is honorary secretary of the U&C club.
When asked to supply further details about the U&C club, Lord declined to elaborate. “We are a club, we have our objective and we comply with the law,” he said.
Christopher Fenwick, a member of the wealthy retail family which has an estimated fortune of £500m, was until recently a former deputy chairman of the organisation, Lord confirmed.
Fenwick hosted a table at last week’s Conservative fundraiser at the Hurlingham club, which was focused on the 40 seats to hold and the 40 seats to gain. Last year he sponsored two tables where the table plan showed his guests included U&C chairman, Brooks Newmark MP and Anne-Marie Trevelyn, a Tory hopeful who is bidding to win the Lib Dem marginal seat of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The Tories have been criticised in the past for taking money from organisations which lack clarity about the identity of their donors. The Midlands Industrial Council, an organisation based in a small Lincolnshire village, was for years used to channel money to the party from wealthy businessmen who wanted to keep their donations private.
“The Tories have learned the language of modern government,” said Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch who leads the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency coalition. “They talk about transparency and fairness but the reality is they are continuing with an antiquated way of doing things, like secret donor clubs.”
A Tory spokesman said: “All donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with Electoral Commission rules.”
Analysis by the Bureau reveals that hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been donated to Tory candidates ahead of next year’s election, one that polsters suggest may produce the tightest result in living memory.
With Labour having to rely largely on the unions for funding, the Bureau’s analysis shows that leading Tory hopefuls are powering ahead in the sums raised.
Political funding and the way this money is raised has been thrown into sharp relief following the Tories’ annual fundraising dinner, held last week at the exclusive Hurlingham Club in south west London.
The event proved a huge money-spinner with oligarchs, Middle Eastern businessmen and City financiers vying to bid huge sums at an auction that raised, according to those there, £500,000 for David Cameron’s party.
At this year’s dinner a Russian banker – the wife of a former Kremlin deputy finance minister – paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. A bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher went for £45,000 with a pot of honey fetching £20,000.
Source – Bureau Of Investigative Journalism, 05 July 2014