Tories accused of dropping ‘donor club’ lists

The Conservatives have been accused of ditching a public register of the Prime Minister’s dinners with the party’s biggest donors — eight years after David Cameron introduced the measure following a cash for access row.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor 13 June 2020 www.telegraph.co.uk 

Details of the party’s elite “donor clubs” have been removed from the Tories’ website, along with previous quarterly registers of donors invited to meals with Theresa May, Boris Johnson’s predecessor.

Party donors Mr Johnson is understood to have met since entering Downing Street include Richard Desmond, the publisher and property developer who gave £12,000 to the Conservatives on January 28.

Under changes introduced by Mr Cameron, the Conservatives published lists of donors who attended dinners with the party leader, having joined the £50,000-a-year “leader’s group”.

But the page setting out details of the group, and past registers of such dinners, has been removed from the Conservatives’ website since the election.

On Saturday night, Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said: “The public have a right to know which party donors get special access to the Prime Minister during a private dinner.

“Without this transparency the public will assume that it’s one rule for Tory donors and another for the rest of us.”

The disclosure came as Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, was embroiled in a row after it emerged that he had sat next to Mr Desmond at a dinner in November, two months before he approved the businessman’s application to build 1,500 homes in east London on the site of the Westferry Printworks. Mr Jenrick has said he refused to discuss the application at the dinner. 

Last week it emerged that Mr Johnson met Mr Desmond several times during his time as Mayor of London, and this newspaper understands that they have also held talks since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister. Mr Johnson has said he has never had any conversations about the proposed development.

On Saturday it emerged that Sir Edward Lister, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, had also attended the dinner in November, but a Conservative source said he also had no involvement in discussions about the scheme.

Previous versions of the register revealed dinners that Mr Cameron hosted in the official residence above No 11 Downing Street, as well as donors, including Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former Russian finance minister, who attended meals with Mrs May.

Until earlier this year, the party’s website contained a “donor clubs” page. A description of the most elite group stated: “The Leader’s Group is the premier supporter Group of the Conservative Party. Members are invited to join the Leader and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches.” Membership of the group was listed as £50,000 per year.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “There is no question of any individual influencing Party or Government policy by virtue of any donations they may give to the Party or their attendance at Party events.

“Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

The spokesman added: “We remain committed to publishing the register of Leaders Group meals and will do so in due course.”

On Saturday, Steve Reed, the Shadow Communities Secretary, called for the publication of all documents relating to the Westferry Printworks site, in order to ensure “public trust in the probity of the planning process.”

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