SCAN has learnt that a donation was made to Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw’s constituency party or association through the United and Cecil Club. According to The Independent, the Conservative party have funnelled donations totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds through the secret dining club to allow donors to keep their identity hidden.
The Independent reported that figures reveal that between February and May alone the Conservatives have been given £140,000 by the United and Cecil Club to fund election campaigns in their most marginal seats. The constituency party of Ollerenshaw, himself an MP in a marginal Conservative seat, is believed to have been paid £2,500 through the United and Cecil Club. The payment was registered on January 22nd.
The money is believed to have been given by donors at lunches and dinners attended by senior Conservative figures, including at least five cabinet ministers. The Independent alleges the findings threaten to embroil the party in an embarrassing new row over cash for access.
Under Electoral Commission rules, individuals and organisations donating more than £1,500 a year should be named but those giving through a private members’ club are not identified on the register. Figures from the Electoral Commission show that over the last year nearly £300,000 have been funnelled to Conservative marginal seats from the United and Cecil Club, and as much as £800,000 over the last decade. The club, which is based out of a suburban house in Buckinghamshire, appears to have no website, no contact details and no publicly available membership list.
Eric Ollerenshaw is MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, the first since boundary changes were made. In 2010 he narrowly beat Labour candidate Clive Grunshaw by 15,404 votes to 15,071 votes – a less than one percent difference in vote share and a -4.8 swing from Labour to the Conservatives.
Nationally, the secret donations made through the Club make the United and Cecil Club the Tories’ seventh-largest donor, with their biggest financial support coming from the billionaire hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze. The figures from the Electoral Commission show he gave the Conservatives their single-biggest donation for six years with a £1.5m gift, helping them to lead the funding arms race in the run-up to the next election – raking in £6.6m in first quarter of this year.
Transparency campaigners voiced particular concern about the way in which the Conservatives were using members’ associations to mask the identity of some of their donors.