By Simon Basketter
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Tory donors joined elite board and grabbed access to Number 10

The elite group has donated £22 million to the Tories, £9.9 million under Johnson
Issue 2793
Boris Johnson with arm raised in wave in front of clocks of different parts of the world and two Union Jack flags

Johnson in Number 10 last week. He ought to be waving goodbye for his favours to Tory donors (Pic: Number 10 on Flickr)

There’s more damning evidence of Boris Johnson’s rule for the rich after it was revealed multimillionaire Tory donors were given unprecedented access to the government and Number 10 through a secret advisory board. This was a gilded circle with special privileges to shape what the government did.

The combined wealth of the board members, companies and families is more than £30 billion. In total, the elite group has donated £22 million to the Conservative party, of which £9.9 million was under Johnson.

The Sunday Times newspaper reports that these ultra-wealthy individuals were granted contact details of ministers and advisers which allowed some to directly lobby the government on Covid-19 procurement and strategy.

Money gave unique opportunities to grab public contracts. In return for at least a £250,000 donation the board members, whose investments span property, construction and tobacco, gained privileged access to Boris Johnson and his closest advisers.

The “advisory board” is a secret group of ultra-wealthy Tory party donors. One meeting took place online the same day as one of the garden parties in Downing Street with Britain deep in the pandemic. Lord Udny-Lister, Johnson’s chief strategic adviser, met with board members who were alarmed by the effect of Covid-19 on their businesses.

They wanted to scrap health regulations that they thought were limiting their profits.  Udny-Lister tried to deliver the goods. One witness said, “It was implied that what we said would go straight up to the PM.” The meeting was also joined by Ben Elliot, prince Charles’s nephew, who is a top fundraiser and Tory party chairperson.

The board is a Tory creation so it escapes government monitoring and accountability laws. According to the Sunday Times, members are told not to record or take notes of meetings, or discuss the group publicly. 

More than a dozen people were routinely invited to advisory board meetings. Of these, at least three are billionaires and six have appeared on The Sunday Times Rich List. The board revealed to them the contact details of ministers and advisers. Some of those Tory donors who took part went on to lobby the government directly on Covid-19 strategy and procurement. Others grabbed information about how to apply for public appointments. And it worked. 

Some had fat contracts approved by ministers, and others stashed honours signed off by Johnson. This is all an extra tier of access beyond the Leader’s Group, which offers scheduled drinks receptions and meetings with the entire cabinet from Johnson down for a donation of £50,000.

They pay out more and are treated with oozing respect as members of a formal organisation. One member said they were told, “You are going to give us the money, and the advice, we need to stay in power.”

Another said it was “about making sure the Tories continue being in power, whatever we need to do—how to raise more money, how to get the message spread, how to ensure policies get designed that are business-friendly”.

This is another glimpse of the world of patronage and sleaze at the heart of this government. It is part of an establishment—politicians, cops, royals, businessmen, bankers, Tory donors and media owners—which is rightly more and more reviled. Johnson has to go, and so does the rotten system his party infests.

Some members of the advisory board

Lawrence Jones

An internet entrepreneur currently facing trial for rape and sexual assault. Jones, whose net worth is £700 million, was repeatedly invited to meetings even after it was known he had been interviewed by police in connection with the allegations, which he denies.

 Lubov Chernukhin

A former banker who is the wife of president Putin’s former deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, and is said to have lobbied against higher tax for the ultra-rich. Their wealth, much of it held offshore, has been estimated to be in excess of £366 million.

Lord Spencer of Alresford

A financier worth £l.2 billion who has given more than £7 million to the Conservatives, including £1.2 million under Johnson. In 2020 Johnson gave him a peerage, four years after an honours committee had blocked one..

Philip Bouverat

Attended on behalf of Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, the manufacturing giant, whose net worth is £4.5 billion and who has donated £5.2 million to the Tories, including £2.7 million under Johnson.

 Jamie Reuben

Co-owner of Newcastle United Football Club and part of the Reuben family, whose net worth is £21.5 billion. He has personally donated £816,000 to the Tories, the vast majority of it under Johnson.

Sir Tony Gallagher

A property tycoon worth £1.l billion who has given £2.8 million to the Tories, including £1.2 million under Johnston, who gave him a knighthood in 2020.

Javad Marandi

A businessman who made his money in tobacco distribution and was granted an OBE in 2019.

Leo Noé

A property tycoon worth £606 million who has given £l million to the party.

John Gore

A billionaire theatre investor who has given £4 million.

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