“Concern grows at Tory link to US lobby firm in Facebook smear scandal”

“The Conservative party is under pressure to reveal details about its relationship with the London arm of a US lobbying firm accused of smear tactics against critics of Facebook.

UK Policy Group, a consultancy with close links to the Conservative party, is part of Definers Public Affairs, the controversial firm ditched by Facebook earlier this month following a New York Times exposé that has further dented the social media network’s image. …

Set up in 2017, UKPG’s vice president is Andrew Goodfellow, the Tories’ former director of policy and research. Its two founders, Matt Rhoades and Joe Pounder, are heavyweight US political operatives who – in addition to establishing Definers – set up the America Rising corporation, described as the “unofficial research arm of the Republican party”.

“Our blueprint to winning elections involves the relentless pursuit of original and effective hits against Democrats,” the firm explains on its website.

UKPG’s only known client is the Conservative party, for which it reportedly provides research on its opponents. A spokeswoman for the Conservative party confirmed it works with UKPG.

When asked whether it intended to continue working with the firm in light of recent allegations and what the firm did for the party, she said: “We don’t comment on contracts with individual suppliers.”

Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow minister for the cabinet office, said: “It’s precisely because of revelations like this that the public have no faith in this government to clean up our democracy and restore trust in politics.” …

“This isn’t any old muckraking outfit,” said Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch, a group that monitors PR agencies. “Was UK Policy Group an ‘unofficial research arm’ of the Conservative party? A pro-Brexit operation? We need to know why they arrived in the UK when they did, what they were doing for nearly 18 months, who they were targeting and who was paying for it. And why they appear to have upped sticks the very week Definers are fired by Facebook.”


Owners of Greendale object to planning conditions!

FWS Carter and Sons, the owners of Greendale Business Park, have asked East Devon District Council to reconsider two planning applications which were approved in Oct by the Development Management Committee. 17/2430/MFUL and 18/0920/FUL both being applications for Agricultural Buildings.

They are asking the Council to remove the suggested legal agreements to secure a non-alienation clause preventing their sale or letting to another party and requiring the buildings to remain in agricultural use.

The legal agreement was suggested by the District Councils Legal representative as an alternative way of ensuring that the buildings are used only for the agricultural and not converted to employment or industrial units in the future.

Councillors were concerned due to the previous history of unauthorised conversions of agricultural buildings to employment units at Hogsbrook Farm by the owners.

Since the application was agreed the owners have held meetings with the Legal Dept at EDDC claiming the legal agreements are “unnecessary and unreasonable”.

FWS Carter and Sons also consider the imposing the legal clause jeopardises the farm’s financing arrangements, restrict succession planning, prevent certain corporate organisations and unduly restricts the business in an uncertain economic climate.

The applicant is reported to have discussed the legal agreement with their bank lender to ascertain their position. The report claims the bank manager who has been a specialist agricultural lender since 1995 cannot recall a Legal 106 Agreement ever having been applied to a farm building before. The lender further noted that a S106 agreement could restrict the bank’s flexibility to enforce against its security and could reduce the value of the security. This would impact the bank’s lending on both the proposed buildings and the land.

There is a long history in relation to Agricultural units at both Greendale Business Park and now at nearby Hogsbrook Farm. There have been over 10 previous applications over a 30-year period by the applicant that due to the agricultural units not being commercially viable and therefore redundant or not being suitable they have applied for a change of use to industrial use. This has resulted in the continual growth from a farm holding to a large Business Park which is in the open countryside.

Previous attempts to curb this practice have failed following a Government Inspector overturning a previous planning refusal even when the agricultural unit had a planning condition attached to the planning approval only 10 years previously that if the agricultural use was no longer needed the unit was required to be removed.

The Planning Report states:

“The planning system has enough protection in terms of the use of the building to ensure that any new use would be assessed against planning policy, regardless of whether a section 106 was in place and it is considered that a non-alienation clause secured through a legal agreement is not now required.”

The report recommends to the Committee to support the applications without the need for a section 106 agreement.

Local Residents are concerned that the recent expansion at Hogsbrook Farm will eventually become a further Industrial Area just like Greendale Business Park did.

NIMBY MPs get their way in Milton Keynes

“Plans for a major expansion of one of Britain’s best known “new towns” were dropped from the Budget at the eleventh hour after heated objections from a government whip and a defence minister, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Iain Stewart and Mark Lancaster, the Tory MPs for Milton Keynes, opposed proposals for some 100,000 new homes on the outskirts of the town, over fears that an influx of residents could clog up its roads and overburden the local hospital. …”


MPs who accepted hospitality from the betting industry

A reduction from £100 per bet to £2 per bet, agreed by the government, has been postponed and the Minister for Sport has resigned saying vested interests were allowed to influence the decision. The current high rate is reckoned to lead to many suicides. It is thought the decision has been postponed to raise revenue for the government to assist with post-Brexit issues.

Sixteen MPs have declared hospitality received from the betting industry. Nine were Labour MPs, six Conservative and one SNP:


Open spaces: to little and so very, very late

The Mail on Sunday today has launched a petition stop parks being sold off.

If only they had created it BEFORE the massive sell-off, instead of after.

But then Tory donor developers – who bought the parks – wouldn’t have liked it.


“Failure to halt rip-off drug deals costs the NHS £200m”

Owl says: Follow the (MPs involved in the pharmaceutical industry and Tory donors) money …

“The NHS is still overpaying for price-hiked drugs by hundreds of millions of pounds a year because the government has failed to use powers brought in to combat profiteering, The Times can reveal.

A Times investigation in 2016 exposed how several manufacturers had taken advantage of a loophole in NHS pricing rules to significantly increase the price of dozens of commonly prescribed drugs by up to 12,500 per cent. The government passed legislation in April last year to end the practice by giving the health secretary powers to impose a lower price for these generic drugs if taxpayers were being ripped off.

However, the government has failed to use these, with a Times analysis revealing that the NHS is continuing to spend more than £200 million a year on the extra costs created by the hikes.

Just 19 of the 70 drugs identified by this newspaper two years ago have undergone significant price reductions, amounting to about £150 million a year in savings to the NHS. The total extra cost of the price hikes across all 70 medicines was £370 million a year in 2016, meaning that at least £200 million is still being overspent annually. The figures are approximate because prescription data is not yet available for the second half of 2018.

The government has referred a number of cases to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has opened at least nine investigations. These cases have been stalled after Pfizer and another drug company won an appeal against a record fine for increasing the price of an epilepsy treatment. The CMA is seeking permission to appeal against that verdict.

One company previously exposed by The Times, Atnahs, increased the price of seven medicines for which it was the sole UK manufacturer by up to 2,600 per cent. These included 50mg capsules of doxepin, an antidepressant, which rose from £5.71 and now costs £154 a packet. Atnahs was able to increase prices by dropping the brand name of the products, which were all out of patent, and relaunching them under generic names. Branded generics are subject to a profit cap but the NHS does not limit the price of unbranded generics. More than two years later, all seven medicines are at the same inflated prices.

Another firm, Concordia International, increased the cost of eye drops from £2.09 to £29.06 and has kept them at this level since 2016. An antidepressant which increased from £9.57 to £353.06 after being acquired by the company has risen further still in the past two years and now costs £386.53.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said that the overall spend on generic medicines went down compared to last year.”

A spokesman for Atnahs said the company’s pricing was “competitively benchmarked” and that it would adhere to any government guidance. Concordia International said it believed the generics system was working well and “the government may not see a need to use these prices controls”.

Case study

Melanie Woodcock, 47, credits the thyroid medication liothyronine with giving her a life. She used to take an alternative that left her “feeling sluggish, constant headaches, dizziness, nausea feeling all day, it even affected my vision, just a constant brain fog”.

“I wasn’t going out anywhere, I wasn’t living a life, I wasn’t going on holiday, I wasn’t doing anything because I didn’t have the energy,” she said.

When she first took liothyronine, a synthetic hormone known as T3, she said it “changed my whole outlook on life”. “I could think clearly I’d got a memory, my vision was better, I lost the achy joints,” she said. “No more living on Neurofen because I had headaches all the time and joint pain.”

Now doctors have stopped prescribing the drug after the price rose from 16p to £9.22 per tablet. The medicine only had one supplier for many years, but even though two companies have recently begun supplying it, the cost to the NHS has barely fallen.

Liothyronine is cheaply available in many European countries and after her prescription was stopped in July 2018, Ms Woodcock, a mother-of-two who lives in Banbury, Oxfordshire, turned to a “website that is aimed at bodybuilders for bulking up” which sells the drug at £31 a packet.

She said when she tried to go back to the alternative treatment, levothyroxine, she was hospitalised with violent illness and a headache so powerful she was unable to see.

Even the liothyronine she buys online has not solved the problem. “It’s not the same [as the NHS-prescribed version], I still feel sluggish, I still have a lack of energy. I’ve had to take several days off work.”

Ms Woodcock, who works in the security industry, said she couldn’t understand “how the government have allowed this to happen”.

Concordia International, which was previously the sole supplier of the medicine, said a high price was justified in order to guarantee a steady supply beause it was a niche product and difficult to manufacture.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

893 gifts or hospitality from developers in 6 years did not influence councillor’s decisions says Monitoring Officer [insert hollow laugh here]

On average accepted gifts or hospitality 3 times a week, every week for 6 years! But he resigned anyway ….. deja vu, deja vu says Owl!

“The Deputy Leader of Westminster Council has resigned following an internal investigation into his conduct.

Deputy Leader Robert Davis announced today he is to resign “with immediate effect” after 36 years of service.

Mr Davis’s resignation comes after he reportedly accepted hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years. These gifts frequently came from property developers who were seeking planning permission, according to the Guardian.

In a statement, Mr Davis said: “I am very proud of my 36 years’ service in local government during which I made a major contribution to the wellbeing of the City and its people.

“Earlier this year there was some press coverage concerning the hospitality I received during the course of my duties. To avoid this becoming an issue in this year’s elections, I agreed to refer myself to the Monitoring Officer, and stand aside as Deputy Leader while an investigation was carried out.”

Mr Davis, who chaired the Conservative borough’s planning committee for 17 years, continued: “My approach to declarations has always been to be honest, open and transparent. I have nothing to hide.

“I registered all my hospitality and it was posted by officers on the Council’s website. I have been making such declarations since 2007 when the requirement was first introduced.

“I also declared any relevant interests at the beginning of every planning committee I chaired during this time. I have acted with the utmost transparency and probity at all times and have only ever taken decisions on the basis of what I thought was best for Westminster.

“An inquiry has been completed by the Council. They have confirmed that none of the declarations I made or hospitality I received influenced decisions I took as a councillor and that nothing I did was unlawful.”

He said his actions “created a perception that was negative to the Council.

“While I dispute this, I wish to draw a line under the matter. It is now time for me to move on to the next stage in my life, and for the next generation of councillors to lead Westminster.”


“Home builders’ lobbyist pushed council leader to ‘sort’ and speed planning”

Is this any different to having a (Tory) COUNCILLOR in charge of planning running his own planning consultancy AND chairing an influential business forum? And if this expose came about from a Freedom of I formation request about events in Wandsworth in 2011 and 2013 …..


“A lobbyist for some of the UK’s biggest property developers used a direct communication channel to the leader of a flagship Conservative council to help push through planning applications for luxury apartment developments.

Peter Bingle used his longstanding relationship with Ravi Govindia, the leader of the London borough of Wandsworth, in attempts to circumvent council officials he believed were being obstructive to his clients, including over the size of payments due to public projects.

Bingle’s access has been revealed in a cache of emails released under the Freedom of Information Act that show him asking Govindia, a former flatmate, to smooth the passage of planning applications for hundreds of luxury homes between 2011 and 2013. Govindia responded in some cases by promising to chase officials and fix meetings.

Berkeley calls affordable housing targets ‘unviable’ as chairman earns £174m

Bingle is a former Conservative councillor at Wandsworth and was chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, once one of the country’s biggest lobbying firms. He set up Terrapin Communications, whose clients have included Ballymore and Bellway, the housebuilders, and Royal Mail when it was selling off its land for housing.

When Royal Mail complained about the junior rank of the planning officer assigned to its application and having to repeat details of its plans to officials, Bingle emailed Govindia: “This wouldn’t have happened under the old regime. Your help would be appreciated in sorting things out.”

Bingle later forwarded the Royal Mail’s plan for its presentation to the Wandsworth planning committee to Govindia asking “What’s your advice?” Govindia replied two minutes later: “Will call as soon as I finish this meeting”.

Nearly 100 London councillors have links to property industry

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the correspondence provides a rare window on the methods developers use to apply pressure to politicians behind the scenes to speed up high-stakes planning decisions and to reduce infrastructure payments. An investigation last week revealed how Berkeley Homes, one of London’s largest developers of luxury homes, routinely told local authorities that their affordable housing targets were unviable.

In April, the Guardian revealed planning lobbyists regularly entertained Robert Davis, Westminster city council’s former planning committee chairman. Davis received hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years, frequently from developers and their agents, including Bingle. He has since resigned as deputy leader.

The emails relate to when Bingle was working as a lobbyist for the Royal Mail, which had submitted plans for a 1,800-home development on its site close to Battersea Power Station. In one email to Govindia he lambasted the council’s handling of a negotiation about how much his client should pay to the public purse as “chaotic and shambolic”. He told Govindia it “does nothing for Wandsworth’s reputation in the property world … Something has gone seriously wrong.”

The planning application was eventually approved. Royal Mail last year sold part of the site to US investors for £101m.

Bingle chased Govindia for updates on progress of another 252-home application at Battersea for another client, complaining about “non-committal” planning officials. He applauded the leader when a separate application for 104 private flats in Putney by Berkeley Homes was approved, signing off an email: “Many thanks for a great result.” It had no social housing.

Bingle has denied exerting any undue influence and Govindia said he made no apology for delivering more homes for Wandsworth.

Public records show Bingle has entertained at least 31 councillors in different London boroughs in recent years, taking some out for lunch or dinner more than a dozen times. When Govindia, who was among those he entertained, was awarded a CBE in 2017 Bingle said: “Never has an award for services to local government been more deserved.”

Govindia did not sit on Wandsworth’s planning committee, but Bingle repeatedly urged him to help, often simply forwarding on complaints from property developers.

In January 2012, Royal Mail was concerned about what the council wanted in terms of payments for schools and education. Bingle forwarded an email about that directly to Govindia saying “Ravi, Views?”

Govindia replied later that day: “I will chase the education chaps”.

By March, the development consultant on the scheme asked Bingle to “prod Ravi that we need to get on with this”. Bingle forwarded the email to Govinidia saying “I thought it simplest just to forward this to you”.

When Bingle sent an email asking: “Leader, Can we get a meeting with you in the diary for next week? This scheme is now stuck,” Govinida replied: “I have asked for an update from planners next week.”

Asked about the relationship Bingle said: “The fact that this information came from a freedom of information request shows that it was always available for scrutiny in the public domain. And rightly so. Having been a long-standing friend of Ravi I know it is impossible for anybody to have undue influence over him. Since his earliest days on Wandsworth as a backbench councillor he has always resolutely defended his own viewpoint even if it meant voting against the Conservative group.”

Govinidia said: “It is first and foremost the job of any council leader to press those on all sides to deliver improvements to their borough and improve the lives of their residents. To do the job effectively you need to listen to all voices and make sure that when problems or snags arise that you are on top of them and that you can secure solutions to drive forward and deliver these improvements. I make no apology whatsoever for fulfilling my role as a council leader to deliver more homes, more jobs and more opportunities for our residents.”

He said the Royal Mail development will deliver 318 new affordable homes, a higher number than the developers were originally offering.”


Those MP dodgy links – this time vaping

“MPs who backed calls for looser laws around vaping are attacked over their links to the industry.

MPs who called for restrictions on e-cigarettes to be relaxed have been criticised over their links to the vaping industry.

In a controversial report, they said bans on vaping in public places – such as in hospitals and restaurants or on buses – should be considered.

The report, by the Commons science and technology committee, also said that ministers should carry out a review to make it easier to get the devices on the prescription.

MPs who called for restrictions on e-cigarettes to be relaxed have been criticised over their links to the vaping industry.

It emerged yesterday that the committee’s chairman, Norman Lamb, spoke at an industry forum held by the UK Vaping Industry Association. The forum focused on how to boost the market for e-cigarettes.

He was also photographed next to John Dunne, the association’s director, at the launch of another report and told the audience: ‘I was horrified when the EU went down the route of health regulation [of vaping products]… I thought it was a complete own goal.’

Professor Simon Capewell, of Liverpool University, said: ‘The committee has concentrated solely on ‘experts’ who are e-cig champions.’

Mr Lamb said yesterday that it was unfair to say the committee has a pro-vaping bias.

‘I reject this assertion,’ he said. ‘The committee carefully considered evidence from more than 90 organisations including a range of academics, NHS professionals, NICE [the clinical guidelines watchdog], and government departments to inform the report.

‘It is my responsibility as chair of this committee to speak to a range of organisations and individuals about our work.’ “


” ‘Culture of impunity’ among MPs over hospitality from corrupt regimes “

“More than £330,000 was spent on flights and accommodation for MPs to visit Azerbaijan between 2007 and 2017, and 12 MPs were paid more than £90,000 to appear on Russian state TV, according to a report by Transparency International UK.

The report focused on parliamentarians who had accepted hospitality from corrupt and repressive governments while providing political access and lobbying.

It said many of the MPs and peers had been given all-expenses-paid trips to such countries paid for by the host government.

The publication of the report follows the suspension of the DUP MP Ian Paisley last week after he admitted he had failed to declare £50,000 of family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards found that Paisley had breached the rules on paid advocacy by writing to David Cameron in 2014 to lobby against a UN resolution on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, after receiving holidays from the country’s government.

Transparency International UK’s report also found that two MPs had provided advisory services to the king of Bahrain over the period the government enforced a brutal crackdown of Arab spring protesters in 2001.

The authors of the report say that not only have some MPs actively supported corrupt and repressive governments, but that there is also a “culture of impunity” regarding such practices.

“The activities of the Azerbaijan lobby in parliament has become so infamous that it is seemingly tolerated as almost an eccentricity,” the report said.

Steve Goodrich, Transparency International UK’s senior researcher officer and one of the authors of the report, said: “This is not the first time that the inappropriate behaviour of foreign regimes in lobbying UK parliamentarians has been exposed. But our report shows that this has become a systemic pattern of behaviour, with many MPs and peers completely ignorant or knowingly dismissive of these problems.

“This type of engagement between parliamentarians and corrupt and repressive regimes can no longer be kicked into the long grass because it’s politically convenient. It is a detriment to the UK’s standing as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law.”

Following the publication of its report, Transparency International UK is calling for an inquiry into the conduct of MPs and peers in legitimising corrupt and repressive governments.

The group recommends that MPs and peers should also be banned from taking trips paid for by foreign states and their lobbyists over £500 in value. Instead, the group suggests that a list of organisations should be agreed in parliament for whom paid trips over this amount are acceptable.

Transparency International UK also recommends that MPs should be prohibited from providing paid or voluntary services to foreign governments and state institutions, and that the register of members’ financial interests should be published as structured open data.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said it was “time to end the discredited practice of our parliamentarians enjoying generous foreign hospitality”.

He said: “International visits can certainly aid informed parliamentary debate, but when these trips are offered by foreign governments they undermine the independence of those MPs accepting them.

“Our politicians are elected to work on our behalf, not the interests of foreign states who increasingly have subversive desires. Global scandals have exposed the activity of foreign states meddling in the affairs of others and we need to shore up our defences against this sort of activity.” …


Russians give May’s Tories £800,000

“Theresa May could be forced to come clean on the source of Tory cash linked to Russia.

A report on meddling in UK politics by Vladimir Putin’s regime urges the Electoral Commission to devise “more stringent requirements for major donors to demonstrate the source of donations”.

The intervention by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee comes after a Mirror probe revealed the Prime Minister accepted a £50,000 donation from the wife of a former Russian minister – on the day she blamed Moscow for the Skripal poisoning.

In total, Mrs May has let more than £800,000 from Russia-linked sources into Tory coffers while PM.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett said she should hand it all back, adding: “Serious questions must be answered about why she thinks it is appropriate to accept this money after warning about Russian interference in the UK.”

And Lib Dem spokeswoman Christine Jardine said her “refusal” to explain donations “threatens the integrity of our democracy”.

A Tory spokesman said all donations are properly declared and comply with the law.”


US donors courted by Tory ultra-right wing think-tank

“A rightwing thinktank has been offering potential US donors access to government ministers and civil servants as it raises cash for research to support the free-trade deals demanded by hardline Brexiters, according to an investigation.

The director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was secretly recorded telling an undercover reporter that funders could get to know ministers on first-name terms and that his organisation was in “the Brexit influencing game”.

Mark Littlewood claimed the IEA could make introductions to ministers and said the thinktank’s trade expert knew Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox well.

The IEA chief was also recorded suggesting potential US donors could fund and shape “substantial content” of research commissioned by the thinktank.

This could hugely benefit US farmers by lifting the ban on the sale in the UK of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones and chlorine-washed chicken.

Speaking about what kind of Westminster access the IEA could provide donors with, Littlewood told the investigator: “I have absolutely no problem with people who have business interests, us facilitating those.”

The investigation, undertaken in May and June, also revealed the thinktank had already provided access to a minister for a US organisation.

The disclosures are likely to raise fresh questions about the independence and status of the IEA, which is established as an educational charity. Charity Commission rules state that “an organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. …”


“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.”


Another summer, another sleazy Tory fundraising ball for toffs

“Millionaire Tory donors blew tens of thousands of pounds to secure luxury dinners with ministers, ­private hunting trips and a ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley during a ­lavish fundraiser.

Guests paid up to £1,500 a head for the annual Summer Party, held on Monday at London’s exclusive Hurlingham Club and hosted by PM Theresa May.

As her Cabinet teetered on the edge of implosion over Brexit, desperate ministers had to rattle the Tory donation tin.

Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson were seen “working the room”, getting rich supporters to part with their cash. …

And items up for auction included:

A ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley
Dinner cooked by Michael Gove, in his kitchen
University Challenge with David Lidington
Wine tasting with Brandon Lewis and Matthew Jukes
Own a David Cameron lectern
Dinner with Stephen Hammond
A museum tour with Boris Johnson
Regency weekend for 4 in Cheltenham
Night in Central Mayfair
Villa for 10 in Phuket
Week in Provence for 12
Namibia cheetah experience
Pheasant shooting in Leicester and quail hunting in Texas


“UK democracy under threat and reform is urgent, says electoral regulator”

“The Electoral Commission has called for urgent reforms to electoral law after a series of online political campaign scandals, acknowledging concerns that British democracy “may be under threat”.

Following a series of revelations involving the likes of Cambridge Analytica, the elections regulator has asked Westminster and the devolved governments to change the law in order to combat misinformation, misuse of personal data and overseas interference in elections.

Among other recommendations, the Electoral Commission has called for:

A change in the law to require all digital political campaign material to state who paid for it, bringing online adverts in line with physical leaflets and adverts.

New legislation to make it clear that spending in UK elections and referendums by foreign organisations and individuals is not allowed.
An increase in the maximum fine, currently £20,000 per offence, that the Electoral Commission can impose on organisations and individuals who break the rules.

Tougher requirements for political campaigns to declare their spending soon after or during a campaign, rather than months later.

A requirement for all campaigners to provide more detailed paperwork on how they spent money online.

The intervention follows years of debate about the largely unregulated world of online political campaigning in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

“Urgent action must be taken by the UK’s governments to ensure that the tools used to regulate political campaigning online continue to be fit for purpose in a digital age,” said Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission.

“Implementing our package of recommendations will significantly increase transparency about who is seeking to influence voters online, and the money spent on this at UK elections and referendums.”

His organisation also backed proposals to publish a database of political advertisements that will enable the public “to see what adverts a campaigner has taken out and how much they paid”. Facebook is already due to launch such a facility for UK political adverts within the coming months.

The regulator, alluding to foreign governments such as Russia, also raised concerns that there is currently no explicit ban on overseas organisations buying online political ads aimed at a British audience. …

… A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to increasing transparency in digital campaigning in order to maintain a fair and proportionate democratic process, and we will be consulting on proposals for new imprint requirements on electronic campaigning in due course.”

The Electoral Commission has also asked for the power to investigate individual political candidates if they have broken constituency spending limits in general elections. At the moment only the police can investigate such allegations, resulting in the long-running investigation into Tory candidates’ spending on battle buses, which was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to insufficient evidence.

Other proposals include pushing political parties to count online advertising targeted at local constituencies within individual candidate spending limits – which can be as low as £10,000 – rather than as part of national campaigns which are allowed to spend up to £19.5m. During the 2017 general election the Conservatives were able to target Facebook ads regarding local issues at individuals in specific constituencies and count it as national spending – just so long as they didn’t mention the name of the local Tory candidate.

Both Labour and the Conservatives spent substantial sums of money on online promotions during the last general election, with digital spending accounting for more than 40% of all advertising spending by political parties in 2017. …”


Swire’s mate and co-director continues to court the wrong kind of controversy

Swire is a co-director with Barker in a company (Eaglesham Investments) set up to do business in “emerging energy markets”:


Now Barker is dealing with a lobbying firm with close links to Trump:

“Tory peer Lord Barker hires Trump aide to fight Oleg Deripaska sanctions

The Tory peer who chairs Oleg Deripaska’s EN+ has hired a lobby firm with close links to President Donald Trump at a cost of £82,000 a month, as the Russian aluminium giant races to avoid US sanctions.

Lord Barker, an energy minister under David Cameron, has appointed Mercury Public Affairs to engage in “executive branch and legislative branch outreach” on his behalf, according to documents filed with the US Department of Justice. Mercury is charging the London-listed EN+ $109,000 a month for its services. Mercury has approached the French, German, Australian and Irish ambassadors to the US, urging them to lobby the American government in support of a plan put forward by Barker to reduce Deripaska’s influence and therefore avoid sanctions. …”

Source: Sunday Times (pay wall)

BHS’s Sir Philip Green worried about his reputation in auditor’s report, seeks gagging clause

Owl says: impossible to harm this bloke’s reputation any further – he already managed it all by himself.

And as for PwC auditor who spent only 2 hours on the BHS audit file – wonder how much that cost BHS!

“Sir Philip Green is seeking a gagging order to prevent the full publication of a watchdog’s report that casts fresh light on the BHS scandal.

On Thursday, Green launched a high court bid to stop the Financial Reporting Council publishing its damning report on the failures of the auditors responsible for checking BHS’s accounts.

The Topshop tycoon wants sections of the FRC analysis to be redacted or changed, arguing that references to him and other members of the former BHS management could cause “serious and potentially irreparable harm” to their reputations.

Last week Steve Denison, the senior PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant who audited the BHS accounts ahead of its sale for £1, only a year before the department store chain collapsed, was given a 15-year ban and and record personal fine of £325,000 after he admitted misconduct. …

On Thursday, a leaked email sent to nearly 1,000 PwC partners and written by the firm’s UK chairman, Kevin Ellis, was heavily critical of Denison who, it emerged, had backdated his BHS audit opinion and spent just two hours working on the file.

In the email, Ellis described Denison’s supervision of the audit as “inadequate” with too much work delegated to a junior team member. “This situation should not have happened and we need to face up to the failings and learn the lessons,” he wrote.”


Dirty money?

“Tories take Putin’s pal £50,000… on the day Theresa May blamed Russia for Skripal poisoning”

… On the very day Mrs May was firmly pointing a finger at Vladimir Putin over the Salisbury murder bid, a former Kremlin aide’s wife ploughed the cash into the Tory party’s coffers.

And Lubov Chernukhin gave a further £50,000 to the Conservatives as police investigated the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia – bringing the total donated in the two weeks after the poisoning to £100,000.

Lubov’s husband Vladimir is Putin’s former deputy finance minister.

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable branded the payment “sheer hypocrisy”.

He said: “The Conservatives should have returned the money straightaway.

The very least they can do is return this now.”

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery added: “It smacks of hypocrisy for Theresa May to accept tens of ­thousands of pounds from a donor with links to Putin’s regime on the same day she denounced the Kremlin over the Salisbury attack.

“The Tories need to come clean with the public about what checks they have made on the wealth amassed by their super-rich donors.”

It comes after we revealed two Tory peers – Lord Hague and Lord Barker – are both earning thousands of pounds a year from firms slammed by MPs over links to the Kremlin.

Lubov’s gift was on March 12, according to official records seen by the Mirror.

… When she took office in July 2016, the PM said it would not be “business as usual” with Russian donors amid growing tensions between Moscow and the West. But her party has since received more than £800,000 from Russian-linked supporters.

Banker Lubov alone has donated more than £600,000 since 2010.

It is understood she has lived here for many years and is a British citizen. There is no suggestion she has no right to donate to the Tory party. …”