Today
Tue 26 October 2021

From aristocrats to betting companies, Sam Bright inspects the organisations and individuals that have donated to the Red Wall cohort of MPs and wonders if they are representative of the people who live there

The onward march of party conference season – the first since the 2019 General Election – has seen a continued debate about the Red Wall: the group of former industrial seats in the north, Midlands and north Wales that flipped from Labour to the Conservatives, often for the first time in decades.

The mass assembly of party members at cramped conference halls, stalked by journalists, has led to heightened speculation about the culture of the Labour Party. It has been widely suggested that the supposedly middle-class backgrounds and attitudes of Labour members have alienated the party from its former Red Wall heartlands.

But this narrative fails to consider the culture of the Conservatives; whether the social makeup of the party corresponds with its new Red Wall constituents. If not, the Conservative Party’s ability to retain these seats may be significantly diminished.

This can be partly assessed through the funding of individual candidates. Are the people pledging their hard-earned cash in support of Red Wall Conservative MPs representative of the people who vote in these areas?

To investigate this, Byline Times inspected the donations that have been made to the 33 Conservative MPs who won Red Wall constituencies in 2019, as defined by Sebastian Payne’s book Broken Heartlands, and the gifts pledged to their local parties. The evidence is illuminating.


Aristocracy

Lee Anderson, a particularly strident MP from Ashfield, has been heavily funded by the Cayzer Trust since launching his 2019 election campaign. Records show that Anderson has received £42,000 from the Cayzer Trust in several payments since August 2019.

As Solomon Hughes has previously reported, the wealth of the Cayzer Trust comes from the fortune of Charles Cazyer, earned through shipping in the 19th Century. He was elected as a Conservative MP in 1892, before his nomination as a hereditary lord. Cayzer’s descendants now trade in investments, while The Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ estimated the family’s wealth at some £819 million in 2020. “Our strategy of investing capital carefully for the long term is how we build wealth for generations,” reads the Caledonia Investments website, 48% owned by the Cayzer family.

It’s not particularly controversial to suggest that the Cayzers are paid-up members of the aristocracy. And they appear to have funded other Conservative Red Wall candidates. Miriam Cates, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, logged a £17,000 donation from the Cayzer Trust in January 2020, presumably dedicated to her election campaign.

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There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the donors or the candidates. Indeed, it is perfectly within the UK’s democratic rules to donate to a political party or candidate. However, the backgrounds of these donors are instructive, in understanding the priorities of certain political parties, their candidates, and their often contradictory groups of supporters.


High Society

On a similar theme, several Red Wall MPs have been substantially funded by the Carlton Club, described on its website as “one of London’s foremost members-only clubs”. The Carlton Club is socially-selective, in the sense that prospective members must be nominated by existing members of the club. The cost of membership is not publicly available, though the club is situated in St James’s, bordering Mayfair, one of the wealthiest postcodes in London.

An electoral loophole allows individuals to donate to a political party or candidate through a members’ club – thus preventing their identity from being released on the Electoral Commission website. Typically, any individual or organisation who gives more than £1,500 a year to a local party must be listed on the public register. However, a donor who gives through a members’ club is only listed if their gift exceeds £7,500, while there is no way of monitoring multiple gifts of less than £7,500 to multiple clubs.

Our calculations indicate that Conservative Red Wall MPs have been funded by the Carlton Club to the tune of £29,000 since the onset of the 2019 General Election campaign. Recipients include Christian Wakeford (Bury South), Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton), Nicholas Fletcher (Don Valley), Lia Nici (Great Grimsby), Richard Holden (North West Durham), Gary Sambrook (Birmingham Northfield), Jo Gideon (Stoke on Trent Central), Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East), Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East), Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) and Tom Randall (Gedling).

Another mysterious, high-society group – used to funnel donations to the Conservative Party – is the Stalbury Trustees. According to Companies House, the trustees include:

  • Ulric David Barnett, a descendant of the Third Earl of Verulam.
  • John Duncan Grimston, the Seventh Earl of Verulam.
  • LordCharles Edward Vere Cecil, son of the Sixth Marquis of Salisbury.
  • Charles’s brother, Robert Michael James Cecil, the Seventh Marquis of Salisbury.

This seemingly vague network of aristocrats has given £31,000 in total to seven Red Wall Conservatives since the 2019 General Election campaign, including Lia Nici, Miriam Cates, Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe), Nicola Richards, Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West), Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) and Mark Fletcher.

Other clubs in the same ilk, that have donated substantially to Red Wall Conservatives, include:

  • The Portcullis Club: an exclusive events society run by local Conservative associations, seemingly open to higher paying members.
  • The Leamington Fund: an obscure, Midlands-based society formerly chaired by Michael Price, the provincial grandmaster of Warwickshire freemasons.
  • The Association of Conservative Clubs: the parent organisation for 1,100 local Conservative-associated clubs.
  • Staffordshire Westminster Club: a “high prestige” club attached to the South Staffordshire Conservative Association that hosts “exclusive events”, open to higher-paying members.

Betting & Telecoms

A number of Red Wall Conservatives have also been the recipients of non-cash donations from betting companies. Scott Benson (Blackpool South) accepted tickets to see England play at Euro 2020 worth £1,537.60 and £3,457, while also attending Royal Ascot (£1,400) and Wimbledon (£1,100).

Likewise, Mark Jenkinson (Workington) accepted tickets to Euro 2020 (£3,457) and Royal Ascot (£1,400), joined at the football by Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme), who accepted tickets from betting companies worth £6,956.

The impact of betting on poorer, working-class communities has been well documented, with some campaigners calling for an outright ban on gambling adverts.

Strangely, a number of Red Wall Conservative MPs have also received donations from telecommunications firm IX Wireless, totalling at least £13,800 since the 2019 General Election campaign. Overall, IX Wireless has made donations to Conservative MPs worth £21,500, while James Wharton, a Conservative peer and donor, is a director of the firm’s parent company. IX Wireless appears to be expanding its operation into parts of the north.

“The company is managing the 6G Internet in towns in the north of England, providing gigabit internet at lower prices than providers such as Virgin and BT,” the company website says, boasting an image of former Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden at the launch of its Blackburn network. Wharton and IX Wireless did not respond to Business Insider, when previously presented with these facts.

Meanwhile, individual donors include self-made millionaire and racing driver Lawrence Tomlinson (originally from Batley in West Yorkshire) who has donated £23,000 to five Red Wall Tory MPs; asset manager Ian McVeigh; billionaire owner of JCB Lord Anthony Bamford; and Lord and Lady Spencer (via a company called IPGL).

One Red Wall Conservative, Dehenna Davison (Bishop Auckland), is paid £369 a-week for hosting a Sunday morning show on the right-wing platform GB News, which is funded by assorted wealthy foreign interests.

In contrast, 93% of Labour’s funding during the 2019 general election came from trade unions.

“The Conservative Party is funded by membership, fundraising and donations, including over 600 local associations across the country and it is this small-scale, grassroots support which is the bedrock of the party,” a spokesperson previously told openDemocracy.

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