Conservatives eye £19.5m funding drive ahead of June election

Rajeev Syal and Holly Watt
Theresa May speaks at an election campaign rally near Aberdeen in Scotland. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

The Conservatives have launched a late push to raise up to £19.5m for the general election campaign as the party seeks to capitalise on its wealthy supporters.

The fundraising follows concerns among the party hierarchy that donations have fluctuated since the EU referendum. Many of the hedge fund directors who were friends of the former prime minister David Cameron, or wished to stay in the European Union, have melted away.

Fears over finances quashed plans by Theresa May’s team to drop the Tories’ annual Black and White Ball, party sources confirmed.

Soon after May became prime minister, it was reported that her aim of becoming the party of working people should not be associated with photographs of multimillionaires rubbing shoulders with ministers before taking part in an expensive auction.

A watered down and lower key version of the event eventually took place in February, but participants were encouraged to wear lounge suits instead of black tie.

Insiders claim that May’s advisers reversed a planned ban on the event because of a dip in money. Since the referendum, quarterly donations to the party have fluctuated, from £4.4m in the second quarter of 2016 to £2.9m in quarter three to £3.7m in the final three months of the year, according to official figures.

Last week, a small group of new fundraisers launched a mission to raise money for the general election, headed by Mick Davis a mining businessman who is now the party’s treasurer.

He has been joined by Stuart Marks, a tech entrepreneur who has given the party more than £126,000, personally and through his company L Marks.

The Cheshire-based businessman has helped set up JLab, a collaboration with the retailer John Lewis, whose former managing director Andy Street is running to be the mayor of the West Midlands for the Conservatives.

They are part of the team that replaced the highly effective money-raising team headed by the former party chairman Lord Feldman, who left office at the same time as his close friend Cameron last summer.

In recent weeks, May’s new team has been seeking money from donors who have not given since Cameron was in power. Charlie Mullins, the founder of the London-based firm Pimlico Plumbers, who recently predicted that May would not last two years in office, said he was approached by the party on Tuesday.

“My name had come up when they were looking for big donations,” he said. “I don’t know why it is £19m; I think it’s all about the advertising campaign and the short time to raise some money.”

Political parties are able to spend £30,000 for every seat they contest during the regulated period. There are 650 seats around the country, and the Conservative party is likely to contest almost all of them. This means the party can spend up to £19.5m during the regulated period.

The regulated period for political parties runs for the year leading up to the 8 June general election, meaning it has already begun. For the 2015 general election, there were two regulated periods for candidates known as the ‘short campaign’ and ‘long campaign’. For the election on 8 June 2017, there is only a short campaign, according to the Electoral Commission.

In politics, parties are willing to talk about personalities, policies and principles, but very rarely allow themselves to be drawn on the distasteful topic of money.

A Conservative spokesman declined to comment on the £19m figure, saying: “All donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”