politics

Keir Starmer demands answers over 'murky' Tory club which gives donors access to PM


A top Cabinet Minister has insisted Conservative-supporting, multimillionaires who pump fortunes into the party war chest are not acting “immorally”.

Boris Johnson and party co-chairman Ben Elliot

Keir Starmer has demanded to know who was in a “murky special club” for Conservative donors who get to meet Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

The Labour leader lashed out Tory “sleaze” as the latest cash-for-access row gripped Westminster.

A top Cabinet Minister earlier insisted Conservative-supporting, multimillionaires who pump fortunes into the party war chest are not acting “immorally”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, a former Conservative chairman, defended the practice of wealth business figures ploughing funds into the party then going onto enjoy chats with the Prime Minister and Chancellor.

He spoke out after a string of revelations about the Tory “advisory board” reportedly setup by controversial current chairman Ben Elliot.

Donors, thought to include a hedge fund boss and an investment manager, pay £250,000 and get to meet the senior ministers.

Mr Starmer said: “What’s so concerning about what we’ve seen in relation to this special club for the Conservatives is sort of cash-for-access and the influence that is being bought by this process.

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Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during a visit to Scotland this week
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PA)



“It’s the latest example of one rule for them and another rule for everybody else, and what we’ve called for is transparency – tell us who’s been involved in this, who’s been meeting who and how much money has exchanged hands.

“But we can’t have this sleaze, this murky cash-for-access.”

Mr Shapps insisted the party donors were doing nothing wrong.

“I have to say there are a lot of people in this country who believe in this country and want to see it prosper and may have views about the things that will make the country prosper,” he claimed.

“Supporting a political party should not, in my view, be painted as some sort of immoral act.

“I think that, when people stand up for their beliefs and support a party, whether that is by joining a political party at a local constituency level or indeed donating to a political party, there is nothing inherently bad or wrong about that.

“It doesn’t change any policies, but you are certainly welcome to hear about the policies.”








Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
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Image:

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)



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A minister said there were “tight rules” to account for large donations to the Tories.

Asked if the public would believe large Conservative Party donors were not buying influence,

Business Minister Paul Scully told the BBC: “I think that it’s the nature of donating to political parties.

“In the same way that trade unions donate to the Labour Party because they believe in the Labour movement, people donate to the Conservative Party because they believe in the principles that the Conservative Party have.

“But we have got really tight rules in place and sometimes you can actually be to the point that you can actually go the other way and keep people at arm’s length.

“We need to be seen to be doing the right thing, as well as doing the right thing.”





Further questions about Mr Elliot were raised when it emerged that Jakob Widecki, his partner at a PR firm called Hod Hill, also holds a role in Mr Elliot’s team at Conservative headquarters.

Mr Elliot, the nephew of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, has run a luxury concierge company, Quintessentially, for the last 20 years.

Critics fear there are blurred lines between his roles at Hod Hill, Quintessentially and the Conservative Party.

A spokesman for Mr Elliot told The Times: “Ben is supported by Jascha Widecki and others in the chairman’s team in his voluntary role as co-chairman of the Conservative Party.

“Neither Quintessentially nor Hod Hill have a commercial contract in place with or provide services to the Conservative Party, nor does any other business that Ben has an interest or shareholding in.”





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