Conservatives see surge in donations as supporters return to back Rishi Sunak at next election
The Conservatives saw a huge increase in donations at the start of this year, official figures show - as financial backers came back to the party following political turbulence in 2022.
The Electoral Commission says the Tories collected £12.1 million between January and March 2023 - the biggest three-month total since the end of 2019 when Boris Johnson won the general election. Labour raised £4.4 million over the same period.
How are political parties funded?
Political parties get the money they need to operate in two main ways: public funds and donations. The main source of public funding is so-called “short money” - introduced in the 1970s to allow opposition parties to carry out their Parliamentary business by hiring researchers and covering their expenses.
In terms of donations, any time a party receives more than £7,500, it has to be declared to the independent watchdog - the Electoral Commission. It makes the figures public so we can see exactly where the money’s coming from.
Who’s backing the Tories?
Data for the first three months of this year shows most of the £12.1 million received by the Conservatives came from three people:
- The Tories’ senior treasurer and Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Mansour, who gave £5 million. The Daily Telegraph reported last month it was the single biggest donation to the party in two decades. Explaining his motives to the Telegraph, Mansour described Rishi Sunak as a “very capable Prime Minister” and wanted to give him “the best chance of having a full five-year term”
- Another billionaire - Indian textile tycoon Amit Lohia - who donated £2 million
- Party treasurer Graham Edwards, who owns Britain’s biggest private property company, gave £2 million of his own
Smaller donors included Alasdair Locke, the former chairman of the Scottish oil rig owner - the Abbot Group - and the hair stylist and entrepreneur John Frieda.
What about Labour?
Labour raised £4.4 million over the same period. Its biggest single donation was £500,000 from Gary Lubner - the former boss of the company that owns the car windscreen repair giant Autoglass.
Labour also received £2.3 million from its trade union backers, including £1.1 million from Unite and £359,000 from Unison.
And the other main parties?
The Liberal Democrats collected £1.3 million in the first quarter of 2023, while the Greens had donations of just under £169,000 - including an £8,000 gift from the artist Sir Antony Gormley.
The SNP - whose finances have come under intense scrutiny in recent months following the arrest of the party’s former chief executive Peter Murrell - received a single donation of £4,000. Murrell was later released without charge.
Is the funding system transparent enough?
The Electoral Commission has called on the government to do more to raise confidence in the way parties are funded.
Louise Edwards from the watchdog said: “We publish details of these donations so that voters understand how political parties are funded”.
“We know transparency of party and campaigner finance is important for people, but our research tells us that only 24% of people believe party funding is transparent”.
“It’s clear that publishing this information is not enough. We continue to recommend to the UK Government that it reforms the system, to help protect parties from those who seek to evade the law, and give voters more confidence”.