Public will take “dim view” of elite Conservative donors’ club, Dodds says

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds has declared that the public will take a “very, very dim view” of a secretive club for the most generous Conservative Party donors that has reportedly granted them access to the highest level of government.

The Financial Times revealed last week that the exclusive group developed by Tory Party co-chair Ben Elliot, known as the “advisory board”, held regular meetings and calls for its members with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

Labour has called for the Conservatives to publish the names of everyone who attended the meetings that, according to one donor, have been used by some in the group to lobby ministers for public spending cuts and lower taxes.

“The fact is that the Conservative government has the ability to dish out public money. We already know that those with Conservative connections have been ten times more likely to obtain contracts for protective equipment, for example, under this government,” Dodds told Times Radio this morning.

An NAO report released in November 2020 found that half of all Covid contracts, worth £10.5bn, have been handed out without a competitive tender process and that applicants with political contacts were ten times more likely to be successful.

“Now, we don’t see them accepting responsibility for actually making sure that when the Prime Minister or the Chancellor have meetings, that they should be properly minuted, just as has taken place with the UK civil service for decades. They seem to be trying to wriggle out of this,” she added.

“And I think the British public will take a very, very dim view indeed… I actually did have a number of people saying to me that they were really concerned, they felt like long-held conventions about the use of public money in particular, were just being thrown away by this government. They find that really appalling. They were really concerned about it.

“Above all, this, to me, it’s not really an issue about party politics. It’s far more important than that. It’s about whether we have in our country, a government that holds to those rules and conventions that have been in place for decades, to make sure in particular that public money is spent only ever wisely. And we’ve not had that under the Conservatives.”

Elliot is a businessman, best known as the cofounder of the concierge company Quintessentially. He has served as co-chair of the Conservative Party since 2019, initially alongside James Cleverly and currently with Amanda Milling.

Dodds, chair of the Labour Party, wrote to Milling on Sunday evening demanding that she clarify the working of the group and explain Elliot’s role in offering access to a “powerful elite” to the Prime Minister and Chancellor.

Dodds urged her Conservative counterpart to publish a list of ministers who have attended the meetings alongside the people who have paid to gain access to the group. Some have reportedly donated over £250,000 to the party.

“The Conservative Party needs to come clean on what access this group had, what they used that access to lobby for, and why it appears that there is one rule for high-ranking Conservatives and another rule for everyone else,” she wrote.

“The way that Boris Johnson and his friends operate seems to be not about what is right but what they can get away with, blurring the boundaries between public and private life. There are now serious questions for the Conservative Party to answer about their fundraising techniques.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by the donations the party receives – they are entirely separate.”

Elliot apologised to Conservative MPs last year for arranging a fundraising dinner, during which property developer Richard Desmond discussed his controversial east London Westferry project with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The developer donated £12,000 to the Conservatives after his 1,524-home development was approved by the minister – against the wishes of local residents, the local council and the advice of the government’s planning inspector.

Elliot is also facing further questions after telecoms magnate Mohamed Amersi, an elite member of Quintessentially, said the businessman had introduced him to Prince Charles after paying his company tens of thousands of pounds.

Amersi described the arrangement as “access capitalism” last week. Elliot is understood to deny the work was connected to his role at the Conservative Party and insists he undertook the connection in order to raise funds for charity.

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