Finance, property and mining: the money behind Sunak’s £460,000 leadership bid

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative party leadership bid was bankrolled to the tune of almost £500,000 by City figures including a multibillionaire hedge fund manager, a spread betting tycoon, and intriguingly, a close friend and policy adviser who masterminded his campaign.

Rupert Neate www.theguardian.com

Sunak, 42, who together with this heiress wife has a £730m fortune, received a total of £458,570 in donations as well as gifted office space and the use of a private jet for his failed – but then eventually successful – bid to lead the Conservative party and become prime minister.

He received more money than any of the other contenders in the race, ahead of Liz Truss who collected £424,000, and in excess of the £300,000 spending limit put in place by the Conservative party.

Chris Rea, industrialist

Sunak’s single biggest backer was Chris Rea, a little-known Northern Irish businessman. Rea, who runs the manufacturing company Aesseal, donated £100,000 according to the register of members’ interests. He gave £50,000 on 28 July, followed by another £50,000 on 9 August.

Rea, who has been confused by some with the Road to Hell rocker, has been a long-time donor to the Conservatives including £25,000 in 2008 and £100,000 during the 2010 election campaign.

Rea told the Guardian that he chose to donate to Sunak because he was “horrified at the prospect of Liz Truss actually implementing her promises as I am numerate and it was clear to me that it would be bad for the UK”.

He said Sunak did not solicit the donation, but he did call him and invite him to a “thank you dinner in London” after Sunak lost initially to Truss.

Rea insisted there had not been and “never will be any conversations about any policies that will benefit me personally or Aesseal”.

“Frankly neither I nor the business need any help, and I and we are more concerned about what we can give to society than what society can do for us,” he added.

Michael Farmer, ‘Mr Copper’ hedge fund manager

Michael Farmer, a former Tory party treasurer, prominent Brexiter, hedge fund boss and metals trading multimillionaire known as “Mr Copper”, donated £38,470 including, as Sunak described it, “use of a plane during my campaign for leadership of the Conservative party”, a gift in kind valued at £23,470.

Farmer, 77, who made most of his estimated £150m via his Red Kite group of hedge funds, is one of the largest donors to the Conservatives, giving at least £6m over past last 10 years. He was Tory party’s co-treasurer from 2011-2015 and made a life peer in 2014.

Farmer, one of the world’s most influential commodity hedge fund traders, donated £300,000 to the Vote Leave campaign in 2017 and said Brexit would be a “bright new beginning” for Britain. He also donated £100,000 in 2011 to the No to AV campaign, which opposed replacing first-past-the-post voting with a transferable vote system.

He was an early public backer of Sunak, saying in July that the now prime minister was “a serious man” and said his plan to apply fiscal “discipline now and allowing some generosity later is the right way to handle the current economic difficulties”.

Farmer, who campaigns for “a culture that values family life” and became a Christian “literally overnight when he was 35”, shot to public attention in 2013 when it was revealed he had paid for his son George to join Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon club, the male-only dining club that David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson attended.

George Farmer is now chief executive of Parler, the rightwing social media app that Kayne West – who changed his name to Ye last year – has said he is buying after he was blocked by Twitter for making antisemitic posts.

George is married to Candace Owens, the outspoken US rightwing political pundit. They tied the knot at the Trump Winery in Virginia in 2019 with a string of famous US and UK rightwing guests including the former UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage. George stood unsuccessfully for Ukip in the 1999 European parliament elections.

Nick Leslau, property developer

The second-largest donation came from Yoginvest Ltd, a company controlled by the multimillionaire property investor Nick Leslau, which donated £50,000. Leslau, who is estimated by the Sunday Times rich list to have a fortune of about £400m, owns big stakes in Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and Thorpe Park.

Leslau, who donated £20,000 to the Conservatives through Yoginvest in 2019, said in 2020 he would not give any more money to the Tories after the government banned commercial landlords from evicting shop and restaurant tenants struggling during lockdowns. “I think the flippancy with which the property industry has been treated has been narrow-minded,” he told the Times.

Mick Davis, mining tycoon

Sir Mick Davis, also a former Tory party treasurer and ex-boss of the mining company Xstrata, gave Sunak £25,000, and said last week any MP backing Johnson’s bid to return to No 10 was “delusional”. Davis has donated almost £6m to the Conservatives over the years. In 2011 he was revealed to be one of the people funding the jetset lifestyle of Adam Werritty, a friend of the former minister Liam Fox whowho posed as an official adviser in a scandal that let to Fox’s resignation.

Will Harris, PR boss

Office space in a Grade II-listed building near Westminster, worth £3,195, for advisers running his campaign was provided by Bridge Consulting Ltd, the home of PR firm Bridge F61. The firm, which has boasted on its website “We can make you rich, we can make you famous”, was co-founded by the the Tory marketing guru Will Harris, part of the team that devised the slogan “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” for the mobile phone firm.

Harris, who says he campaigned for Michael Howard in 2003, the year he became leader of the Tory party, boasts on his website that working for political clients is akin to a “frantic T20 Blast”. “Despite a shared love of Jaffa Cakes and cans of Coke Zero, business campaigners rarely start their day at 5.45am with the morning media briefing, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Eleanor Shawcross, political adviser

Another £20,000 came in from Eleanor Shawcross, a policy adviser who helped run the campaign from the headquarters in Dean Trench Street. She is expected to be rewarded with the job of head of the No 10 policy unit or possibly chief of staff.

She was among the staff who lined up to welcome the new prime minister as he walked through the door of Downing Street on his first day in the role.

Her donation was made in the name Eleanor Wolfson. She is married to Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of the clothing chain Next, who has given hundreds of thousands to the Tories, and was granted a peerage in 2010.

She is the daughter of William Shawcross, who has written several books on the royal family and former chair of the Charity Commission, and is a non-executive director at the Department for Work and Pensions and was deputy chief of staff to George Osborne when he was chancellor.

She met Lord Wolfson, who is 14 years her senior, while working for Osborne. The couple married in 2012 and have two children, one of whom was born prematurely and spent weeks in neonatal intensive care – she is on the board of the Winncott Foundation, which works to improve neonatal care.

Shawcross previously worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Blavatnik school of government at the University of Oxford.

Michael Spencer, financial entrepreneur

Michael Spencer, the billionaire founder of the broker Icap, donated £25,000. However, the long-term Conservative backer who has given more than £5m to the party and as treasurer from 2006-2010, initially backed Penny Mordaunt with a £25,000 donation. The day after she was eliminated he donated to Sunak, and then later when Truss appeared to be winning he donated the same amount to her campaign.

In her first days in office he praised her as “one of the most pro-business” leaders the country has ever had.

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