Rishi Sunak Appoints Donor as Policy Chief
One of the most senior figures in Downing Street recently gave £20,000 to the new Prime Minister
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has appointed Eleanor Shawcross as his head of policy, after she donated £20,000 to his Conservative leadership campaign.
Electoral Commission records show that Shawcross donated the sum to Sunak on 24 August this year – not long before the conclusion of the leadership contest to succeed Boris Johnson, which Sunak lost to Liz Truss.
The donation is filed under the name Eleanor Wolfson, an alias for Shawcross, who is married to Lord Simon Wolfson, CEO of the clothing retailer Next. Lord Wolfson is a Conservative life peer, having been appointed to the House of Lords in 2010 by David Cameron – to whom Lord Wolfson had previously donated. Lord Wolfson more recently donated £130,000 to the party in 2019.
Eleanor Shawcross has extensive experience in the public sector, having previously served as deputy chief of staff to Cameron’s Chancellor George Osborne, and chief of staff at the Department of Work and Pensions – later appointed as a non-executive director of the department. She also served as an advisor to Sunak when he was Chancellor.
According to recent reports, Osborne is now advising Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as the latter appears set to impose a renewed era of austerity on the country – a task undertaken by Osborne when he occupied 11 Downing Street. Rupert Harrison, Osborne’s former chief of staff, is also one of four figures also appointed by Hunt to a new economic advisory council.
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Shawcross is not the only member of her family to have been awarded a Government position. Her father is William Shawcross, a writer and lecturer, who is in charge of reviewing the Government’s controversial ‘Prevent’ strategy designed to counter violent extremism. Shawcross, whose appointment was criticised, is a former director of the right-wing Henry Jackson Society and once claimed that “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future” – adding that “I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.” Shawcross previously served as chair of the Charity Commission.
There is no evidence that Eleanor Shawcross was directly appointed as a result of her donation to Sunak’s campaign – and there’s no suggestion that she shares the above views of her father. However, this appointment is likely to further entrench the perception that Government roles are often awarded to those with political and financial connections to the Conservatives.
Neither Downing Street nor the Cabinet Office responded on the record to our request for comment.
Moreover, this is not the first controversial appointment made to Downing Street in recent months.
During her short-lived tenure, Truss appointed lobbyist Mark Fullbrook as her chief of staff. Fullbrook initially courted controversy after it was revealed that he was being paid as a contractor through his lobbying firm – later forced to recuse himself from discussions about the Government’s smoking strategy due to his past work as a tobacco industry lobbyist, and from discussions related to Libya, given that he previously lobbied ministers on behalf of a Libyan politician.
The Times revealed yesterday that Boris Johnson is expected to award peerages to several of his former aides, despite the former Prime Minister’s disgraced exit from office. This will encourage the idea that politics is a closed shop where perks are passed around among well-connected insiders.
And, while former aides are protected in their future endeavours, donors are allowed exclusive access to the heart of power.
Joining the party’s so-called ‘Leader’s Group’, for example, requires £50,000-a-year and allows members exclusive access to parties and dinners with Cabinet ministers and party apparatchiks.
Boris Johnson has been a regular attendee of Leader’s Group summits in recent years, and Leader’s Group donors tied to the City of London gave more than £50 million to the party from 2010 to 2019.
While the Leader’s Group is not a recent phenomenon, founded in 2003 by David Cameron, new inventions have been created by the party over the last few years, extending this cash-for-access system.
Indeed, a group of big money Conservative donors has been given direct access to Downing Street officials – and even the Prime Minister – in exchange for donations of £250,000 or more.
“It was implied that what we said would go straight up to the Prime Minister,” one witness to the Downing Street ‘advisory board’ meetings said. “It was a two-way street. They [officials] gave us information on what was going on. We gave our advice.”
At least 16 Conservative allies – both supporters and donors – were awarded non-executive positions in Government departments by Boris Johnson’s Government.
Attendees of the annual Conservative fundraising ball are also invited to bid for auction prizes – including exclusive events with ministers – in exchange for hefty donations. At this year’s event, Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of former Russian deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, snapped up a £30,000 wine tasting – following the £135,000 she previously paid for dinner with Theresa May when she was Prime Minister, and a £160,000 tennis match with Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
The highest value prize at this year’s fundraising event was dinner with all three – Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron – which sold to an unnamed donor for £120,000.
Meanwhile, those who lavish donations on the party are often bestowed with major honours – though the party insists that this is merely coincidental. As Byline Times has previously revealed, more than a quarter of those who have given £100,000 or more to the party in recent years have been awarded a peerage or an honour, increasing to 55% among those who have given more than £1.5 million to the party.
Rishi Sunak promised a new era of “integrity” when he entered 10 Downing Street. Based on the record of his first few weeks, however, it appears that he is following in the footsteps of his old boss Boris Johnson.