“Revealed: Tory donors who paid £7m to socialise with Theresa May”

Owl says: hedge funds expect to make squillions from Brexit.k

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, Brexit backers and wife of Putin minister among benefactor

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, a string of Brexit backers and the wife of a former senior minister to President Putin are among the Conservative donors who have paid more than £7m to socialise with Theresa May since the general election.

Eighty-one party benefactors have paid a total of £7.4m to the Conservative party for access to the prime minister at dinners, post-prime minister’s questions’ lunches and drinks receptions since July 2017, records show.

Party insiders say the large amount raised over just nine months from a single revenue stream is evidence that the Tories are aiming to be “election ready” for the autumn.

At least 10 of the donors, who joined the Leader’s Group for £50,000 a head, are supporters of a hard Brexit.

Dominic Johnson, who attended two of the group’s events in 2017, is the co-founder of Somerset Capital Management – an investment firm set up with Rees-Mogg, a hard Brexiter and the chairman of the European Research Group [ERG].

Somerset was recently reported to be warning its clients about “considerable uncertainty” as a result of Brexit, and set up a fund in Ireland, which benefits from EU financial passporting rights.

Sir Michael Hintze, the hedge fund billionaire who gave £100,000 to Vote Leave, is a familiar figure in Conservative circles and attended at least one dinner in 2017 with the prime minister, sources said.

Hardy McLain, a retired US hedge fund manager living in London, attended events in 2017 and 2018. He previously donated £20,000 to the Vote Leave campaign.

It is the first time since July 2017 that any details of dinner guests of May’s Leader’s Group have emerged. Their identities have been quietly released by the Conservatives this week.

Receiving campaign donations is a routine activity for politicians. But each gift carries with it a potential conflict of interest if the prime minister’s policies appear to benefit those who made the donations.

Edmund Truell, who attended dinners in 2017 and 2018, owns a Swiss-listed private equity business called Disruptive Capital, whose mission statement is to “exploit market uncertainty” to generate returns.

Only two women are among the Leader’s Group donors disclosed in the documents.

Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband, Vladimir, was the deputy finance minister of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was given access to the prime minister between last July and September. She has given £626,500 to the Tories since 2012, including £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and £30,000 to dine with the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson.

Alisa Swidler, a US philanthropist and friend of Bill Clinton who has given £336,686 to the party, also attended an event with May.

The party’s chief executive, the mining tycoon Sir Mick Davis, told a meeting of donors in September that the party needed to raise an additional £6m through the parliamentary cycle if it was to win the next general election.

The party spent £18.5m on last year’s election, when the Conservatives lost their working majority, compared with £11m by Labour. Sources told the Guardian the Tories are aiming for a 40% annual increase in the party’s budget – money that will be spent on up to 100 local campaign co-ordinators.

Records show that Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative party treasurer who gave millions to the party under William Hague’s leadership but stopped donating during Cameron’s premiership, appears to be back in the fold and is a member of May’s leader’s Group. He was joined by the former government adviser and investor in payday loans, Adrian Beecroft.

May appears to bring cabinet members to each event. She was joined by Amber Rudd and the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, at events between the election and the end of September; the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, accompanied her to Leader’s Group meetings in the autumn; between January and April this year, May was joined by Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and four other cabinet ministers.

The Conservatives had not updated details of donors who attended events since July 2017. Cameron pledged to release donors’ data following an outcry over the Leader’s Group dinners and whether they were allowing the rich and powerful to buy access to the cabinet.

The documents were spotted this week by campaigners for a second referendum on membership of the EU. Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “People will rightly be angry to see the government listen to Brexit donors in return for donations to the Tory party while denying the British public a vote on their deal.”


“New MP’s EXPENSES SCANDAL: MP’s fiddling the books will be allowed anonymity”

“MPs who are accused of cheating on their expenses will be able to remain anonymous under rules it has emerged, just after a record ban was handed to Ian Paisley after he went holidays funded by Sri Lankan Government.

The Government has been accused of trying to push through the change under the radar.

It would hide the names of all MPs under investigation and the Government has been accused of “protecting the sensitiveness of politicians”.

Since the expenses scandal in 2008, all MPs under inquiry are automatically published on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The new system would mean the process would be anonymous.

Further, the commissioner would not be required anymore to automatically publish the verdicts.

However, the Commissioner could decide to make decisions and complaints public if it is deemed to be in the public interest.

Ian Paisley was handed a record 30-day suspension from the House of Commons after it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph he went on two family holidays funded by the Sri Lankan government.

If the new change was already implemented the public may not have found out about the case of Mr Paisley.

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons, published the results as she is also head of a cross-party group set up last year after the sexual harassment scandal.

The Committee on Standards, that analyses complaints made against MPs, has said it does not agree with the decision and opposes it.

It aims to table an amendment to block the changes before a vote by members.

The Committee said: “Any decision to step back from this will be perceived as conducting investigations in secret and a radical departure from a commitment to openness and transparency.

“It is important to publish at least a summary of each case she has concluded so that it can be shown that justice has been done and that MPs are accountable.”

Kevin Barron, the chair of the Standards Committee, said: “It would be a huge step backwards in terms of transparency to block the publication of all disciplinary cases, including cases outside of the new code for things, such as incorrect use of stationery or abuse of their expenses.”

The commissioner’s inquiries this year have included Jeremy Hunt and Craig Mackinlay.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it would “seriously undermine our democratic system”.


Sleazy DUP MP banned from Parliament for 30 days

Wonder how many days Swire has spent in the Maldives on government or Conservatives Middle East Ccouncil business?

“Ian Paisley Junior been suspended from the House of Commons for seven weeks after breaking Westminster rules over luxury trips worth up to £100,000.

The “severe” punishment has been imposed on the senior Democratic Unionist Party MP after he took his family on all-expenses-paid holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

Mr Paisley failed to register the trips before writing to David Cameron in support of the Sri Lankan government “about a proposed United Nations resolution”.

“In view of the seriousness of this matter, we recommend that Mr Paisley be suspended from the service of the House for a period of 30 sitting days starting on 4 September 2018,” said the Commons standards committee.

His actions amounted to “paid advocacy” and “bring the House of Commons into disrepute”, a damning report concluded.

“The 30-day suspension, if confirmed by a Commons vote, is thought to be the longest period any MP has been barred from the Commons for 15 years.

It also exposes Mr Paisley to the danger of being “recalled” by his constituents, under legislation passed in 2015, which would trigger a by-election.

If a recall petition is opened, it must be signed by at least 10 per cent of the electorate in his North Antrim seat for a by-election to take place.

The lengthy suspension, to begin on 4 September, also reduces Theresa May’s effective working majority by one – ahead of potentially more crucial Brexit votes in the autumn. …”

“Dark money lurks at the heart of our political crisis”

“Democracy is threatened by organisations such the Institute of Economic Affairs that refuse to reveal who funds them.

A mere two millennia after Roman politicians paid mobs to riot on their behalf, we are beginning to understand the role of dark money in politics, and its perennial threat to democracy. Dark money is cash whose source is not made public, and which is spent to change political outcomes. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, unearthed by Carole Cadwalladr, and the mysterious funds channelled through Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to the leave campaign in England and Scotland have helped to bring the concept to public attention. But these examples hint at a much wider problem. Dark money can be seen as the underlying corruption from which our immediate crises emerge: the collapse of public trust in politics, the rise of a demagogic anti-politics, and assaults on the living world, public health and civic society. Democracy is meaningless without transparency.

The techniques now being used to throw elections and referendums were developed by the tobacco industry, and refined by biotechnology, fossil fuel and junk food companies. Some of us have spent years exposing the fake grassroots campaigns they established, the false identities and bogus scientific controversies they created, and the way in which media outlets have been played by them. Our warnings went unheeded, while the ultra-rich learned how to buy the political system.

The problem is exemplified, in my view, by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). In the latest reshuffle, two ministers with close links to the institute, Dominic Raab and Matthew Hancock, have been promoted to the frontbench, responsible for issues that obsess the IEA: Brexit and the NHS. Raab credits the IEA with supporting him “in waging the war of ideas”. Hancock, in his former role as cabinet office minister, notoriously ruled that charities receiving public funds should not be allowed to lobby the government. His department credited the IEA with the research that prompted the policy. This rule, in effect, granted a monopoly on lobbying to groups such as the IEA, which receive their money only from private sources. Hancock has received a total of £32,000 in political donations from the IEA’s chairman, Neil Record.

The IEA has lobbied consistently for a hard Brexit. A report it published on Monday as an alternative to Theresa May’s white paper calls for Brexit to be used to tear down the rules protecting agency workers, to deregulate finance, annul the rules on hazardous chemicals and weaken food labelling laws. Darren Grimes, who was fined by the Electoral Commission on Tuesday for spending offences during the leave campaign, now works as the IEA’s digital manager.

So what is this organisation, and on whose behalf does it speak? If only we knew. It is rated by the accountability group Transparify as “highly opaque”. All that distinguishes organisations such as the IEA from public relations companies such as Burson-Marsteller is that we don’t know who it is working for. The only hard information we have is that, for many years, it has been funded by British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris International. When this funding was exposed, the IEA claimed that its campaigns against tobacco regulation were unrelated to the money it had received. Recently, it has been repeatedly dissing the NHS, which it wants to privatise; campaigning against controls on junk food; attacking trade unions; and defending zero-hour contracts, unpaid internships and tax havens. Its staff appear on the BBC promoting these positions, often several times a week. But never do interviewers ask the basic democratic questions: who funds you, and do they have a financial interest in these topics? …

While dark money has been used to influence elections, the role of groups such as the IEA is to reach much deeper into political life. As its current director, Mark Littlewood, explains, “We want to totally reframe the debate about the proper role of the state and civil society in our country … Our true mission is to change the climate of opinion.”

Astonishingly, the IEA is registered as an educational charity, with the official purpose of helping “the general public/mankind”. As a result it is exempted from the kind of taxes about which it complains so bitterly. Charity Commission rules state that “an organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. How much more political can you get? In what sense is ripping down public protections and attacking the rights of workers charitable? Surely no organisation should be registered as a charity unless any funds it receives above a certain threshold (say £1,000) are declared.

The Charity Commission announced last week that it has decided to examine the role of the IEA, to see whether it has broken its rules. I don’t hold out much hope. In response to a complaint by Andrew Purkis, a former member of the Charity Commission’s board, its head of regulatory compliance, Anthony Blake, claimed that the IEA provides a “relatively uncontroversial perspective accepted by informed opinion”. If he sees hard Brexit, privatising the NHS and defending tax havens as uncontroversial, it makes you wonder what circles he moves in.

I see such organisations as insidious and corrupting. I see them as the means by which money comes to dominate public life without having to declare its hand. I see them as representing everything that has gone wrong with our politics.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist”


Might there be a General Election soon? Swire’s e-bulletin might be a hint!

Swire’s “e-bulletin” messages have been few and far between recently. Perhaps his wife has been busy (as he says she helps with his digital presence).

We have seen the following e-bulletins:

Aug 2014, Nov 2014, Mar 2015, Aug 2015, Dec 2015
Apr 2016, Aug 2016, Dec 2016
Apr 2017, Nov 2017
and now
Jul 2018

So apparently now less than half-yearly.

Of course, now he is no longer a Cabinet Minister we can fully understand why he has LESS time to devote to constituents – it’s all those other jobs he has which take up so much time:


But Owl does fantasise (just a bit) about whether issuing this now is actually a response to the deteriorating political situation for his party – or perhaps Claire Wright’s hard work locally and her recent activities in Westminster getting him increasingly worried.

If you want to read it, go to his web page but Owl has a few observations. However, here is Owl’s summary:

Whatever happened to the Sidmouth Survey he mentions?

He writes extensively about English Tourism Week – yet he does more and speaks more in more in Parliament for tourism in the Middle East.

He boasts about his army service – probably worth reminding people that it was both short and completely devoid of active service in e.g. Afghanistan or Kuwait or the Balkans or any other real hot-spot.

Then he has another boast about his Middle East work.

Next he boasts about his work with CPRE – and having attended one public meeting at their invitation.

Then, we get to THE MOST IMPORTANT TOPIC of his e-bulletin which is SO IMPORTANT it gets a boastful video rather than just a boring old boastful photograph. Yes – you guessed correctly – it’s unemployment? … health care? … social care? … infrastructure? … impact of Brexit? … tourism? … no actually its Protecting British Flora from Imported Diseases.

Next up, he has piggybacked on the efforts of Cllr Elli Pang and Philip Algar and other locals (including Claire Wright) in Ottery St Mary who have been campaigning ceaselessly about Ottery Hospital for decades, to claim to be vitally interested in what happens to it.

Then it’s back to nature topics again to use two columns to double up on his concerns about Sea Horses.

So, there you have it.

Owl’s suggestion: go here instead for a more comprehensive and meaningful view on local issues: http://www.claire-wright.org/

So many problems, so little attention being paid to them

Underfunding to blame for child protection ”crisis”, says report
The Local Government Association has a newsletter of articles from the press that might interest councillors amd council officers. This is today’s. Owl couldn’t reduce the list so here are ALL the topics. SO, SO worrying – all of them.

Underfunding to blame for child protection ”crisis”, says report

Pressure on councils’ safeguarding services in some areas is so severe that often the only way to guarantee safety for children is to take them into care, MPs have said. The report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, said children and young people in serious need got varying levels of help, or no help at all, depending on where they lived, with budgets influencing interventions. Cllr Roy Perry, Vice Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This report is yet further evidence that children’s services are being pushed to the brink.”
Guardian p16, Times p16

Government needs to learn from academy failures that damaged children’s education, MPs say

The Government needs to learn the lessons from high-profile academy failures that have been damaging to children’s education and costly to the taxpayer, MPs have said. The Department for Education did not pay enough attention to scrutiny checks in a rush to convert large numbers of schools into academies, according to a Public Accounts Committee report, which also expressed concern about the levels of support available to struggling schools. Recent LGA analysis revealed that councils are better at turning around failing schools than academy chains. Cllr Roy Perry, Vice Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “It is only by working with councils and giving them the necessary powers, rather than shutting them out, that we can meet the challenges currently facing the education system.”
Independent Online, Telegraph p2

The end of the road for vital bus services?

An article on bus services highlights the case of a cancer patient’s struggle to get to hospital for treatment and the challenge of councils battling over-stretched budgets to maintain bus routes. A recent LGA report warned that nearly half of all bus routes in England are fully or partially subsidised by councils and were therefore under threat due to austerity measures. Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s Transport spokesman, previously said: “Councils know how important buses are for their residents and local economies and are desperate to protect them.”
Guardian p34

Opinion: Matt Hancock’s new role as Health and Social Care Secretary

An editorial in the Times argues that new Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock’s priorities should include “an urgent need to resolve the question of how to fund and organise social care in Britain” and addressing “an enormous amount still to be done in the areas of preventative medicine and lifestyle improvements”.
Times p27

Bosses who revive high street properties are punished with soaring business rate hikes

Thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs are being hit with higher business rates once they renovate dilapidated or rundown stores. Business rates are calculated on the rental value of a property so renovating a run-down site inevitably comes with a rates increase. The Daily Mail is running a campaign ‘save our high streets’ and is calling for a reform of business rates, cuts to parking charges and a fair tax for big internet shopping businesses.
Mail p19

Poor air quality linked to spikes in GP visits

Air pollution leads to spikes in health problems and drives up hospital admissions and visits to the GP, according to a study. The Dundee University report proves an “absolutely clear” link between poor air quality and health problems and researchers said it should serve as a warning to politicians about the serious effects of toxic air pollution on public health.
Guardian p8

New test woe for under 11s

Official figures show that a third of primary school children aren’t achieving higher standards in reading, writing and maths tests, however performance in the SATs exams have improved, with two-thirds reaching the more rigorous requirements, up from just over a half a year ago. Some teachers believe the key stage two tests put too much pressure on young children and does not accurately reflect performance.
Sun p2, Telegraph p2, Guardian Online, i p13, Mail p29

Energy drinks consumption

Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, has warned that children in the UK consume a worryingly high level of energy drinks and is way above the European average. According to Government figures, nearly 70 per cent of ten to 17 year olds consume energy drinks. The Government plans to consult on a ban on children buying the drinks as part of its childhood obesity plan.
Sun p18, Times p4, Telegraph p10, ITV Online, i p21, Express p21

Emerging sex disease MG ‘could become next superbug’

Health experts are warning that a little known sexually transmitted infection could become the next superbug unless people become more vigilant. The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV is launching new advice about MG, which has no symptoms but can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave some women infertile.
BBC Online, Times p4

C of E to create 100 new churches as number of Anglicans hits new low

The Church of England will create more than 100 new churches to “revive the Christian faith in coastal areas, market towns and outer urban housing estates” in the face of a record low number of people identifying as Anglicans. Up to 50 new churches will be established in the diocese of Leicester and 16 in the diocese of Manchester.
Guardian p9, Telegraph p8″

“The national calamity we don’t hear about – the death of local democracy”

‘We cannot survive as we are beyond this next financial year. There is no money. I am not crying wolf. I never cry wolf.” So says the Conservative leader of Torbay council, in Devon: a local authority that delivers the full range of services but can no longer function at even the most basic level.

After years of bone-crunching austerity, by 2020 it will be faced with another £12m of cuts – so the most obvious option is to downgrade itself to a district council, hand over its most essential work to the bigger Devon county council, and hope for the best. Whether this will improve anything is an interesting question: since 2010, in real terms, Devon’s funding from government has been cut by 76%.

Northamptonshire’s council has already effectively gone bankrupt. Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire are reportedly faced with comparable problems. And in our big cities, similar stories have been unfolding for years, as the great cuts machine set in motion by George Osborne in 2010 continues to grind away, while both costs and demand for basic services increase.

Bristol faces a £108m funding gap by 2023, and is cutting services accordingly. Having already hacked well over £200m from its budgets, Leeds is in the midst of making £38m of savings in a single year. In Newcastle, by 2020, insiders reckon that over half the city council’s spending will in effect have been slashed within a decade. Many authorities are putting up council tax, but that doesn’t come close to easing the economies they have to make. And the results are obvious: less comprehensive child protection, less dependable care for older people, fewer children’s centres, more rubbish in the streets – and yet more dire damage to a social fabric that has been pulled apart for nearly a decade.

Why is this national calamity so under-reported?

Some of the answer is about the continuing tragedy of Brexit. Political journalists who work themselves into a lather about this or that item of Westminster gossip hear the dread phrase “local government” and glaze over. It is some token of Whitehall neglect that confusion still surrounds the Tory plan to abolish the core grant given from central government to local authorities and make them completely dependent on business rates and council tax. All told, senior politicians routinely treat non-Westminster people as a mere annoyance: last week, for instance, it was revealed that though the government has commissioned an updated official assessment of the likely effects of Brexit on Greater Manchester, it will not let the people who run that part of the country see it.

There have been times when the UK’s deep tendency to centralise has been momentarily held back, as evidenced by the devolution to Scotland, Wales and London, and Osborne’s encouragement of the rebirth of city regions and the arrival of elected “metro mayors”. But even in those cases – let alone when it comes to the counties, boroughs and districts where devolution remains off-limits – Whitehall’s habit of clinging to power and the effects of austerity have got in the way. Moreover, as evidenced by the calamities that have befallen health and education, particularly in England, politics has tended to revolve around grand schemes authored by politicians who have Bonapartist ideas of controlling everything from the centre – which, in the midst of a society growing more complex and unpredictable by the day, are usually bound to fail.

Yet here is a remarkable thing. For all their travails, some people in charge of councils are among the most inventive, energetic politicians I have ever met. Figures such as Manchester’s Richard Leese, Newcastle’s Nick Forbes, Leeds’s Judith Blake and Plymouth’s recently re-elected Tudor Evans – all Labour people – are located where their policies play out, deeply familiar with local nuances and complexities, and able to move fast. (Weirdly, they are now under attack from their own side: the people at the top of Labour have plans to end the system whereby council leaders are elected by other councillors, and impose one in which their selection would be in the hands of the party’s newly expanded membership – a brazenly factional move that may well be illegal, misunderstands how councils are deeply collective bodies, and threatens constant tension and disruption, just when the people concerned are in the midst of their most difficult era in living memory.)

Meanwhile, at the other end of the local government hierarchy, an experiment in participatory, non-party “flatpack democracy” in my adopted hometown of Frome, Somerset, highlights the revived belief in the power of truly local government, as does the related rebirth of town and parish councils in other parts of the country.

How would such examples of energy and creativity become the norm? Everything ought to start with an acknowledgment that the system is now an incomprehensible mess. It amounts to a random archipelago of town, parish, district, county, city and borough councils, new city regions, police forces and elected commissioners often based on completely different geographies, local enterprise partnerships and an array of other bodies – not to mention an increasingly centralised education system, and a health service now so complicated that very few people understand it. All this feeds into the sense of popular bafflement that defines a country that is simultaneously the UK’s most populous component but also its most powerless: this, it seems to me, is the essence of the modern English condition.

Any political project with radical intentions ought to consider the contrastingly clear, comparatively simple models in most of western Europe: the Spanish structure of municipalities, provinces and regional “autonomous communities” isn’t a bad place to begin. Learning from such examples should lead on to genuine financial independence for councils, based on a decent share of income tax and the ability to raise funds for big projects through bond issues, and a drastic redrawing of the responsibilities of national and local government – not least in the area of basic public services.

Council cuts are putting the vulnerable at risk, Tory peer says
If the NHS is to survive, it is going to have to decisively shift from treatment towards prevention, something that can only be organised at the social grassroots. It is high time we broke up the dysfunctional Department for Work and Pensions, and handed the administration of most benefits and the jobcentre system to local actors who know what actually works. Education urgently needs to be re-localised. If our troubled high streets are to find a new role, it will be people living next to them who will have to be given the power to find it. To even begin to solve the national housing crisis, we will also have to allow local, city and regional politicians to take the initiative. So, we should pay them properly, and allow them the parental leave, holidays, pensions and sick pay that most of them currently do without.

Across the board, we need to leave behind the lingering fantasy that our fate is wholly in the hands of national politicians who can somehow blow the dust off the failed institutional machinery of the 20th century and save us. That world is gone, and its passing ought to be marked with a collective recognition that at the point when councils ought to be in the midst of revival and reinvention, they are actually being killed. God knows, Britain is now well used to the politics of self-harm, but how amazingly stupid is that?”