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New secret club of millionaire Conservative donors revealed

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Issue 2766
BOris Johnson
Boris “I can’t afford to do this job” Johnson (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

A secret club for major Tory donors has been holding regular meetings and calls with prime minister Boris Johnson and the chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Members of the club—known as the “Advisory Board”—have given at least £250,000 each to the party.

It was developed by Ben Elliot, Tory co-chair, as a means of connecting major backers with its top Tories.

The club does not appear in party ­literature.

But officials confirmed to the Financial Times that the Advisory Board ­“occasionally” meets with Johnson and Sunak “for an update on the political landscape”.

One person briefed on the Advisory Board’s activities said it held monthly meetings or conference calls with either the prime minister or the chancellor.

Some members have used those ­discussions to call for public spending cuts and lower taxes, a donor said.

Elliot is a founder of the Quintessentially “concierge” service for the rich and the lobbying and PR company Hawthorn Advisors. He hosted a drinks party at banker Rishi Khosla’s home at which Johnson mingled with leading donors.

Mohamed Amersi, a businessman and Tory donor, told the Financial Times the club was “like the very elite Quintessentially clients membership—one needs to cough up £250,000 per annum or be a friend of Ben”.

A person with knowledge of the Advisory Board said that although giving £250,000 did not guarantee ­membership it was essentially “a donors group”.Supporters of Elliot say the Conservatives have long had a “Leaders Group”, where donors who give £50,000 are offered ­regular meetings with ministers.

The Advisory Board operates at a more rarefied level, with some members giving the party five times that amount.

Eight Tory donors wrote cheques of exactly £250,000 in 2020 and three donors have given that amount so far in 2021. Three donors have given that ­specific amount so far in 2021.

Those who have given at least that sum in 2020 or 2021 include Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of former Russian minister Vladimir Chernukhin.

They also include hedge fund manager Alan Howard, and Rosemary Said, wife of Wafic Said, who is known for his role in the Britain-Saudi al-Yamamah arms sale.

The Tories say, “Government policy is in no way influenced by the donations the party receives.”

Which would mean the rich are wasting their money if true.

Royal nephew linked to Johnson by Eton and cash

Ben Elliot runs Quintessentially, a “concierge” company that caters to the whims of the rich. This includes shipping a dozen albino peacocks to a party for Jennifer Lopez and airlifting elm tea bags to Madonna.

Johnson appointed Elliot as the Tory party’s co-chair. Elliot, the nephew of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is at the centre of providing cash to the Tories.

The Etonians meet regularly, duelling on the tennis or squash court.

Elliot and Johnson have long moved in the same social circle. Elliot regularly played poker with Ben and Zac Goldsmith, at Crown London Aspinalls, a private gaming club in Mayfair.

Johnson was also part of the black-tie Aspinall clique.

Damian Aspinall, son of the club’s founder, runs an animal conservation charity that recently hired Johnson’s wife Carrie as head of communications. Money and Eton tie the group together.

Elliot usually pitches for money in a “mockney” accent, adopting what he thinks is working class patois.

Lord Brownlow, a Tory patron of successive prime ministers, said £58,000 would be paid into party coffers “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed Downing Street trust”.

The trust was never formed, nor the donation declared, but the Conservative Party has insisted that all reportable donations had been “correctly declared”. It says the party had “long provided assistance” to serving prime ministers. Lord Geidt, Johnson’s adviser on standards, ruled that the Johnson had not broken any rules.

Advisory Board members were at the home of Rishi Khosla—a banker—on 28 June. Those milling with Johnson over drinks and canapes included Peter Cruddas, the online trading tycoon who gave the Tories £500,000 days after being made a peer. Another guest was Howard Shore, the founder of Shore Capital who gave the party £250,000 this year.

Figure it out

£17.9 million Amount that donors with property interests and links to development have given the Conservative Party since Johnson became prime minister

£275,000 Johnson’s annual earnings as a Daily Telegraph columnist, penning articles on a weekly basis

£4,250 His monthly rental income from Grade II‑listed cottage in Thame, Oxfordshire

£88,000 Minimum amount Johnson received as an advance for his book Shakespeare—The Riddle of Genius

£37.4 million Amount the Tory party raised in ‘large’ donations in the year running up to Johnson’s 2019 victory

£2.7 million Johnson’s outside earnings over his eight years at City Hall

£1.2 million Purchase price of Johnson and Symonds’ house in Camberwell, south London

£157,372 Prime minister’s annual salary

£830,000 Amount Johnson earned in his last year as a backbench MP before becoming prime minister

£450,000 Earnings for 21 hours of public speaking in just over seven months in 2018-19

£58,000 Donation from Tory patron Lord Brownlow, allegedly to pay for Downing Street refurbishments

Property developers dig deep for Johsnon

Some of the biggest donations secured for the party come from property companies. They would be major beneficiaries of Johnson’s promise to rip up planning laws to allow more housebuilding.

Donors with property interests and links to development have given the party at least £17.9 million since Johnson became prime minister.

The proportion of money backing the Tories from the property sector has soared in recent years to a quarter of all donations.

That’s up from the previous high of 12 percent of party income enjoyed under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

Alarm bells then must sound as Johnson is trying to push through a contentious overhaul of planning rules that aims to build 300,000 houses a year. It’s a policy from which the party’s biggest backers will benefit.

Things they say

‘I call it access capitalism’

Mohamed Amersi, a millionaire who got to meet Prince Charles after donating to the Tory party

‘It is like whisky: you push to see how high you can raise the price ’

Leading Tory on collecting donations for access

‘Theresa May made £500,000 in a year from speaking. I’d pay £500,000 not to hear her speak’

A Tory minister on the money to be made by prime ministers

‘The top donors are Thatcherite free marketeers.They’re fed up with all this state intervention’

One Tory who attended the fundraisers describes the money men’s motivation

‘Willing slave to the stars ’

How Tory co-chair Ben Elliot describes himself

‘I just can’t afford to do this job’

Boris Johnson complains he is short of cash

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