You may be unsurprised to find out that there are no limits on the amount an individual or company can donate to a political party. In fact the Yorkshire Bylines newspaper alleges that “In the UK, you can buy control of the country for less than a superyacht”. They say “An ‘average’ superyacht costs around $275m. Less than 10 percent of that could buy you a UK election and would cover the spending of a major party. For reference, the Conservatives spent £16m in 2019.”
Beyond outright donations to party head offices, some of the other paths to buy influence include the funding of local party associations. Elsewhere donors often provide spreads of donations to politicians and candidates’ campaigns within the same party; that helps them to toe the line!
Sky News published some records from the MPs register of financial interests showing that “The government of Qatar is the fourth-biggest donor to MPs, with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs giving a total of £249,932.16 worth of benefits in kind.” These benefits in kind were donated to individual MPs across different parties. Can you believe that?
Well, there’s more…
Paying for access to politicians within a party is also another business activity that takes place in British politics. The Sunday Times reported that “Ben Elliot, chairman of the Conservative Party and the co-founder of a concierge service to the ultra-rich… had built a reputation for securing wealthy people access to any experience, or any person, under the sun.” As quoted in The Sunday Times “he had promised access to those at the top of the government”.
The Sunday Times wrote that “Elliot was overseeing a secret “advisory board” of donors who had given at least £250,000 to the party and, in turn, received access to cabinet ministers, including Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.” Furthermore The Sunday Times revealed that “most of the time, this world – in which politics and money meet – is shielded from public view. Ultra-rich donors are given access to politicians, advance information about government policy and other opportunities. In return, they keep their counsel.”
Allegations of ‘cash for access’ activities are by no means confined to the Conservative Party, the Daily Express has reported an “unearthed document distributed by Labour (that) makes clear it too has been granting donors access to the party’s top team of MPs.” The Independent also reported in 2010 on the Labour Party MPs “cash-for-access” allegations, surrounding footage obtained by undercover journalists at Channel 4’s Dispatches and The Sunday Times.
In other abominations, outgoing Prime Ministers are granted the privilege of producing a recommended honours list, mostly made up of party donors, who can then take positions in the House of Lords.
If any of these revelations has begun to fill you with confidence, then you’ll be pleased to know that the ‘independent adviser on ministerial interests’ who investigates these matters is appointed by the Prime Minister!
Another method applied is by hedging your bets by splashing out on a hopeful candidate in the campaign leadership for a party. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were donated and spent by multiple individual candidates campaigns in the 2020 Labour party leadership election. One of the losing candidates, MP Rebecca-Long Bailey later went on to reveal in an interview with The Evening Standard that “donors always expect to be paid back in the end.”
Of course then there are always the somewhat grey areas of flexing ‘muscle’ power through the channels of favourable media coverage too.
If you think the way British politics is run is wrong then join No Corruption Alliance to do something about it. Do you think that there should be limits on donations to political parties and that shell company donations should be banned? Register, and you can have your say when online in our poll below, and comments section too.