Buying the election? Tory billionaires outspend Labour’s trade unions in donor war

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Donations from the billionaire business lobby to the Conservative Party are already almost double the total handed to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour by the trade union movement, figures published by the Electoral Commission on Friday show.

In the first of six pre-poll donation reports, accounting for the week between May 3 and May 9, the Tories received a whopping 56 big-money donations, amounting to more than £4.1 million (US$5.3 million). In the same period, the Labour Party gathered just under £2.7 million from nine donations, of which the main ones came from trade unions.

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As per the Political Parties Elections Referendums Act 2000, parties must hand the Electoral Commission a total of six donation and loan reports for any money received ahead of the election in values of more than £7,500.

Spending rules in Britain are strict. The parties are being extra careful this time around, after the recurrent use of a national campaign bus by local candidates during the 2015 election campaign landed the Conservatives in hot water with the commission.

The latest figures show that Corbyn’s party relies mostly on money handed over by trade unions, with all but £61,300 being donations by the likes of Unite, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMB).

The volatile relationship between Corbyn and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey did not seem to affect donations to Labour. Britain’s largest union was responsible for a total of £2.4 million gifted to the party earlier this month.

The Conservative Party, in turn, counted on the generosity of billionaire donors above all. In particular, John Griffin, founder of taxi company Addison Lee, who was the Tories’ largest individual donor, handed Theresa May’s party £900,000 in one go.

Hedge fund manager John Armitage was the second largest Tory donor in the week following the dissolution of Parliament, giving the party £500,000. His gift was nearly matched by a £400,000 donation by the company J.S. Bloor Services – the corporate front of property tycoon John Bloor.

The Tories’ donors list included a series of other businessmen and philanthropists, including the Chamberlain of the City of London Corporation, Peter Kane, Berkley Square honcho Andrew Law, and oil magnate Ayman Asfari and his wife Sawsan.

Asfari’s donation came mere days before he was interviewed under caution by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as part of an investigation into Unaoil, a Monaco-based energy company accused of gaining contracts through a series of corrupt dealings.

Asfari’s company Petrofac told the Guardian that inquiries had found no proof that individual directors were “aware of the alleged misconduct.”

Perhaps the most curious donation, however, was made by department store Selfridges in the form of £40,000 to the Conservative Party.

“All donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law,” a Conservative Party spokesman said.

The Liberal Democrats were third on the list of largest donations, but with a more modest £180,000 total. While the UK Independence Party (UKIP) notably missed Arron Banks on the list of donors, it counted a non-cash donation worth £48,000 from the company of its one-time “sugar daddy” Alan Brown – Brown Properties Ltd.

And despite having been offered a £250,000 donation not to stand in the Richmond Park by-election, the Green Party counted a humble £15,000 donation on their first week of campaigning.

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