The Conservatives have received £10,000 from the United & Cecil Club (U&C), a secretive dining society which allows people to make donations to candidates and parties without revealing their identity.
Electoral Commission figures reveal the U&C gave £445,000 during the 2017 general election via donations to local associations, and £10,000 to the central party in the 2019 general election.
The Register of Members’ Interests, published by the House of Commons, reveals one local candidate donation in the lead-up to the 2019 election, £2,500 for Maggie Throup, MP for Erewash. The register was last updated on 5th November 2019.
Throup’s entry also reveals a link between the U&C and the “Abbat [sic] Group”. Further analysis of the Register of Members’ Interests suggests that the Abbatt Group is a recruitment agency specialising in property.
Furthermore, the Register of Members’ Interests reveals the current chairman of the U&C is Tom Pursglove MP, who has held the position since 1st October 2019. Its prior chairman appears to have been Wendy Morton MP, while – in July 2017 – it was revealed that Simon Hart MP was the chairman of the club, when he was appointed to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The Committee advises the Prime Minister on ethical standards, and one of its principles is that of openness – a quality noticeably absent from the structure of the U&C.
The U&C received extensive press coverage in 2014 when its role in directing cash at key marginals was revealed by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). The U&C continues to gives sums to Conservative candidates in marginal constituencies.
By giving via the U&C, an unincorporated association, individuals can donate more than would normally be permitted, without revealing their identity.
A recent investigation by OpenDemocracy into the elite Tory fundraising machine said that “members pay dues of £100 into its political fund, which fall below the legal threshold for mandatory declaration of donations to the Electoral Commission – so it is impossible to know who all of its donors are, especially as the club is famously secretive as to its membership list. (Its chairman said it had 400 members in 2007.)
Guest speakers at the U&C have included James Cleverly, then a junior Brexit minister, and Jacob Rees-Mogg while he was a backbench MP.
Not elitist at all.
Other donors of note in the latest release by the Electoral Commission include:
- £50,000 from Tim Martin of Wetherspoon, who was £44 million richer following the Tory landslide victory.
- £30,000 from Philip Meeson, executive chairman of low-cost airline Jet2.
- £20,000 from Annabel Goldsmith, mother of Zac Goldsmith and namesake of the exclusive London nightclub Annabel’s.