Owen Jones, Guardian:
“The Conservative party is in the pocket of foreign powers that represent a threat to the national security of Britain. It is a grotesquely under-reported national scandal, lost amid a hysterical Tory campaign to delegitimise the Labour party with false allegations of treason. If Labour had received £820,000 from Russian-linked oligarchs and companies in the past 20 months – and indeed £3m since 2010 – the media outrage would be deafening. But this is the Tory party, so there are no cries of treachery, of being in league with a hostile foreign power, of threatening the nation’s security.
When questioned about the Russian donations to the Tory party, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, pointedly refused to return the money. “There are people in this country who are British citizens, who are of Russian origin,” he protested. “I don’t think we should taint them, or should tar them, with Putin’s brush.” How noble: a Tory challenging the demonisation of migrants.
Before we get out the bunting, though, let’s look at one donation as an example. It was 2014, and Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Russia’s former deputy finance minister, paid the princely sum of £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. In total, since 2012 – when the Electoral Commission initially declared her an “impermissible donor”, before subsequently allowing her to donate – she has handed the Tories £514,000.
I put it to you gently that if Labour took half a million pounds from the wife of a former Cuban minister, there would be no debate about whether this represented a scandalous financial relationship with the Cuban regime. Other examples include £400,000 from Gérard Lopez, a businessmen on the board of a company that partnered with Russian banks that had sanctions imposed on them during the Ukraine crisis.
It goes further than that. By last October, Tory MPs had received four times more money from Russia’s state-run Russia Today TV channel than Labour MPs: it is welcome that the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said that his colleagues should no longer appear on the channel. The Conservative party is notoriously dependent on donations from the financial sector. The tens of millions of pounds poured into the Tories’ war chest are not offered as acts of charity and munificence.
In 2011, for example, the Financial Times reported that “even donors admit that Tory MPs’ desire to cut the 50p top rate of income tax is because these rich City donors are so close to the party”. This same City of London is awash with dodgy money from Russia. No wonder, then, that in 2014 a secret government document revealed plans to stop any sanctions against Russia that might damage the City. Labour has attempted to introduce legislation that could prevent certain Russian individuals entering Britain or block their assets: how mysterious, then, that the Tories blocked it for “technical reasons”.
Then there are the links to other regimes that combine contempt for human rights with a threat to our national security. Take Saudi Arabia, ruled by a totalitarian, fanatical regime that likes to slice the heads off gay men and dissidents, which treats women with what can only be described as barbarism, and which exports international extremism. In the two years or so after it began bombing Yemen – including with British weapons – Tory MPs received £99,396 from the Saudi regime in the form of gifts, travel expenses and consultancy fees. Hammond was one of them: he received a watch worth nearly two grand from the Saudi ambassador.
In the past five years, moreover, Saudi Arabia and other autocracies spent £700,000 on luxury trips for MPs, more than 80% of whom were Tories. Just under £200,000 of that was money from Saudi Arabia to pay for the excursions of 41 MPs, 40 of whom were Conservatives. Now why would they possibly be doing that? Could it be – given that MPs receive nothing from our democratic allies for such trips – that this is part of a clear PR offensive, an attempt to secure influence over the Conservative government?
Indeed, Rehman Chishti – the newly appointed vice-chair of the Conservative party for communities – received £2,000 a month from the Riyadh-based King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies between March 2016 and January 2018. Although the parliamentary commissioner for standards saw no reason to take action, it is worth noting his rampant pro-Saudi dictatorship sympathies. His Twitter feed includes boasting of being congratulated by the Saudi dictator for being re-elected as an MP in 2015, hosting lectures by Saudi officials, and leading Tory parliamentary delegations to Saudi Arabia. His colleague, Daniel Kawczynski, goes on TV to justify the barbaric Saudi assault on Yemen, crows about writing the “most pro-Saudi book ever written by a British politician”, but then threatened to sue when this was linked with went on a trip worth £6,722.14 paid for by the Saudi regime.
Litvinenko widow warns Tories over Russian donations
And then there is the Tories’ financial heart. The Qatari dictatorship owns three times more property in London than the Queen, and more than the mayoralty. Indeed, the Qatar Investment Authority owns Canary Wharf, the Shard and Harrods. Let’s be clear: the Qatari regime has backed extremist and terrorist organisations, as have wealthy individuals under its jurisdiction. As Paddy Ashdown put it in 2015, David Cameron failed to put sufficient pressure on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to stop funding extremism, leading Ashdown to “worry about the closeness between the Conservative party and rich Arab Gulf individuals”. Consider Theresa May’s refusal to publish a report on foreign funding of extremism. Well, it would hardly go down well with the Gulf states, which are so deeply embedded in Tory milieus, would it?
What a farce. There was rolling coverage smearing Jeremy Corbyn as a traitor based on the testimonies of a single crank from the former Czechoslovakia. And yet the Tories are at the centre of a web spun by the Russian and Gulf regimes. Hundreds of people in Salisbury are now washing their belongings after traces of a nerve agent were found at the restaurant suspected to be the location where a Russian spy, and his daughter and a British policeman were poisoned.How is it morally acceptable for the Tories to take the Russian or Saudi shilling? What are the practical implications of this? And where is the never-ending media outrage over it? The answers to these three questions paint a damning picture indeed.”