Man behind 'non-political' Plymouth mayor bid gave £10k to Tory Johnny Mercer

-Credit: (Image: William Telford)
-Credit: (Image: William Telford)

Questions have been asked about the impartiality of a campaign which could see Plymouth brought under a directly elected mayor after it emerged the man leading it donated cash to a city MP. Angus Forbes, the husband of ballerina and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell, has confirmed to PlymouthLive that he offered “substantial” cash donations to both Tory Johnny Mercer and Labour’s Luke Pollard, both defending seats in the general election.

But Mr Pollard, a Sutton and Devonport candidate, has turned down what he said was a £250 donation to his Crowdfunder re-election appeal. Mr Mercer, standing in Moor View, has not commented on his donation but his registered interests include a donation of £10,000 made by Angus Forbes, as an individual, on December 1, 2023, and accepted on the same day.

PlymouthLive was contacted by readers who spotted the donation to Mr Mercer after Mr Forbes announced the bid to force a referendum on whether the city should have an elected mayor. In a campaign message the organisation Yesdemplymouth stressed it is not political party-affiliated and Mr Forbes said he is not a member or supporter of either the Labour or Conservative parties.


But questions have now been raised and one reader said the donation to Mr Mercer “needs some explanation”. They queried the claim Mr Forbes was non-political. The same reader also questioned what the £10,000 given to Mr Mercer was spent on.

Mr Forbes issued a statement which said: “In the last six months, I have donated to both Plymouth MPs Luke Pollard and Johnny Mercer, however I am not a member or supporter of either the Labour or Conservative Party. I am a businessman not a politician, and that is why engagement with successful politicians like Luke and Johnny is so valuable, providing me with campaigning expertise, insight and feedback for this constitutional change campaign.

“Yesdemplymouth is not political party affiliated. Our growing number of supporters are of differing political leanings, united in our frustration with the current structure and our desire to improve the way Plymouth is run.”

When PlymouthLive asked Mr Forbes further questions about the donations he would only say: “I have made substantial donations to both. I have only made two donations in my life and these are the two.”

However, a Labour spokesperson said: “Mr Pollard has not received any donations from Mr Forbes and is grateful for Mr Forbes’ pledge of £250 in his crowdfunder but will not be accepting it.”

The Crowdfunder appeal Re-elect Luke Pollard Fighting Fund raised £2,910 from 50 supporters in 28 days. It hit its target on June 23. On the Crowdfunder page Mr Pollard said: “Your donation will help us pay for campaign materials like leaflets and letters to help us to keep Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Labour.”

Earlier this month Yesdemplymouth launched its slogan with a large lorry showing it off in the city centre. The slogan read “when did the council last listen to you?”, with a line adding: “an elected mayor will”.

The names of 5% of the electorate are needed to trigger a referendum on whether Plymouth should have a directly elected mayor. Mr Forbes said this would equate to 9,800 signees, who must sign a physical petition, not an online one.

He first spoke about the campaign in May and the petition was launched then. The official launch will be in the second half of July.

There are 25 directly elected mayors or metro mayors in England, who hold executive power, but can delegate it, elected every four years. The system was brought in in 2000 in London.

Plymouth rejected a directly elected mayor in a referendum in 2001 and last year withdrew from a proposed devolution deal for Devon which could have led to an elected mayor for a combined Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay. Cornwall also scrapped a devolution deal with an elected mayor last year.

Mr Forbes, who has lived in Plymouth for two years and is on the electoral roll, said: “If Yesdemplymouth is successful in filing a valid petition, then immediately after the referendum in May 2026, Yesdemplymouth will disband. Should the referendum be successful with a ‘yes’ vote, I will not stand as a DEM candidate, nor will Yesdemplymouth or I endorse any candidates.”

Mr Forbes and his wife Ms Bussell were last week photographed meeting Queen Camilla at Royal Ascot.