The Tories held lavish private dinners for 45 wealthy businessmen and hedge fund chiefs over the course of 12 weeks in 2014. Critics say the tycoons are funding marginal Conservative seats that could sway the result of the general election.
In the Conservatives’ most recent transparency filing, details of glitzy dinners held for wealthy donors have caused controversy.
According to official figures, private dinners were hosted for members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “leaders group” whose collective donations to the Conservatives since 2011 surpass £40 million.
Unions help Labour shrink funding gap: Tory donations hit £8.3m and Labour £7.2m in fourth quarter http://t.co/QQ1Xfuyucl
The tycoons have recently channeled £5 million towards various Conservative constituency groups, 70 of which relate to marginal Tory seats. In return for handing over £50,000 each, they receive direct access to Cameron and his cabinet members.
The extravagant dinners differ markedly from other Conservative fundraising events such as black tie balls. They are reportedly much more intimate evenings, where donors can freely discuss politics and policy with key government ministers.
Cameron said in 2010 lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” in Britain.
However, since the Tories have been in power, anti-corruption think tank Transparency International UK says British politics has been blighted by at least 14 major lobbying scandals.
The think tank says such scandals include MPs and select peers agreeing to lobby for payment, the coalition’s failure to publicly disclose evidence for certain policy decisions, and evidence of a revolving door between business and politics.
‘Political wing of hedge fund industry’
The Tories' transparency filing shows key Conservative ministers wined and dined scores of its top donors between October and December 2014.
It also indicates the PM personally hosted wealthy hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hinzte at a private dinner last October.
Labour’s Shadow Cabinet office minister, Jon Ashworth, said the revelations suggest the Tories had effectively become the “political wing of the hedge fund industry.”
Ashworth warned a self-interested group of hedge fund chiefs and businessmen are assisting the party in buying the general election. He stressed these are the very millionaires the Conservatives recently offered tax cuts to.
Tories received 33 times more in donations than the Greens. Tory money comes from hedge funds and tax avoiders. Green money from the people
Another donor who attended the Tories’ private dinners is Swiss national Georg von Opel. Opel has been resident in Switzerland since 1973. Renowned for its financial secrecy, the country is a hive of hedge fund activity.
Other well-heeled donors who attended the soirees include Howard Shore, founder of stock brokers firm Shore Capital, Michael Spencer, founder of disgraced City inter-dealer broker Icap, and metals trading tycoon and Tory treasurer Lord Farmer.
Alexander Temerko, chief of oil and gas firm Offshore Group Newcastle, was also an attendee. Temerko told the Newcastle Journal in November the Tories “spend time and listen to us.”
“They change the law and they change the regulation, and the regulation today is simpler and much more effective,” he added.
‘Transparency is key to public trust’
As details of political party donations across Britain emerged on Thursday, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Lord Bew said “public skepticism” is rife.
He said resistance from Conservative and Labour MPs makes the system very difficult to reform.
Bew argued increased transparency is paramount, particularly regarding the financial affairs of wealthy donors who are made peers.
40% of Tory Donations come from Hedge Funds 20% come from sources linked to Private Health And Tories have the cheek to smear Trade Unions?
Hercules aircraft are parked on the tarmac at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan on Okinawa.(Reuters / Issei Kato)
Residents of Okinawa are concerned about the US military presence on the island, and the increasing crime rate linked to that, as well as the enormous impact on local wildlife, Conn Hallinan from Foreign Policy in Focus told RT.
Takeshi Onaga, former mayor of Okinawa's capital city Naha, answers questions after casting his ballot for the Okinawa gubernatorial election at a polling station in Naha, Okinawa prefecture, on November 16, 2014.(AFP Photo / Toru Yamanaka)
The Japanese prefecture of Okinawa has elected a new governor Takeshi Onaga who is strongly opposed to the US military being on the island. Okinawa has been home to the American military since 1945, with around 26,000 troops there at the moment. There is a widespread local hostility to the American military, along with complaints of a greater accident risk, more noise, and a growing crime rate.
The main controversy now is a plan to re-locate the Futenma air base to Camp Schwab in Henoko which was approved by previous Governor Nakaima. Onaga has promised to veto the landfill work needed for the new base to be built and insisted the base should be moved away from Okinawa.
RT:Can those living on Okinawa be 100 percent sure there will be no US base relocation while Takeshi Onaga is in office?
Conn Hallinan: I don’t think so. The governor can slow down the process; it’s filing a lawsuit on environmental issues and urban impact issues. But he is the governor of a province and if the Abe government in Tokyo insists that this base is going to be built or it’s going to be relocated, the governor can’t really stop it. It doesn’t mean that it is going to be easy to build the base but the final decision rests with the Abe government in Tokyo.
RT:What are the main arguments against the presence of the US military on Okinawa?
CH: There is a series of arguments and that kind of depends on who you talk to. Local residents are very concerned because they feel like they have the bulk of the American bases in Okinawa – about 26-27 thousand military personnel. There are several large bases; there is a lot of pollution. The military is pretty sloppy when it comes to environmental impact and a lot of stuff, that is the pollutants, is very dangerous stuff. There also have been crime rates; there were a couple of rapes. It’s just these very small urban areas, larger urban areas which these bases are right in the middle of; there have been several plane accidents and things. Residents are just very tired of the presence of the American military. Environmentally, the area where they are going to build a base in will have an enormous impact on the local wildlife particularly. The dugong, which is a sea mammal and this, is the area where it breeds and it’s an endangered species.
RT:What influence could the stance of Okinawa's new governor have on Japan's relations with US, considering the US is now pivoting towards Pacific?
CH: I think it is going to have a great effect. It’s really sand in the gears. Okinawa is an enormously important base for the US, in fact, it’s the single most important base in Asia, it’s even more important than bases in Japan in part because of the location where Okinawa is. It was critical for the Korean War, it was critical for the Vietnam War. The “Asia pivot” very much depends on Okinawa; there is only so much hardware you can put in the place like Wake or a place like Guam. So Okinawa is critical here. The fact that the Okinawans don’t want this base here just sort of raises serious political questions about the whole idea behind the pivot. It also increases tensions, certainly, with China.
AFP Photo / Torsten Blackwood
RT:How likely is it that Tokyo could press Onaga to continue the relocation of the base on the main island?
CH: They can force it if it comes to that. They can force the base to be built. I don’t know exactly how they would do that. Okinawa is the poorest provinces in Japan, Okinawans very much feel that they have been discriminated against; they’ve borne the brunt of the American military forces. They are sick and tired of it. The vote wasn’t even close, it was overwhelming, and it was close to 4 to 1 for the election of this governor. The Abe government can force the base to be built but if I were them I wouldn’t try doing it because Okinawans are staunch. I think you are going to see a lot of demonstrations, civil disobedience; it’s going to be a mess.