Is the Tory party becoming the vehicle for a rootless, amoral global financial community with little loyalty to country - or even to great business? I ask, in part, because of the character of the guest list at their parties.
Last year, the venue for the Tory summer fundraising dinner was the old Billingsgate fish market, this year a grand private members' club. Russian property developers, a Greek shipping tycoon, an Iranian investment banker, a Slovenian private equity magnate, Bermudan and
The organising committee of the events is chaired by passionate Eurosceptic Howard Shore, founder of
Altogether, around pounds 500,000 this year was raised by the auction alone. Auction proceeds and table charges will bring in directly around pounds 1m, but after Billingsgate last year another pounds 1.1m was registered as donations in the week after the event. A useful return for one dinner.
But money never comes completely free. Although there was the usual kerfuffle about whether some donations conformed to electoral commission rules, you can be sure that the donors will have taken care to be on the British electoral roll and donations made within the albeit not very strict rules. Both the donors and the Tory party would be crass to try and dodge them.
As for direct influence, many of the donors want no more than to keep the Labour party out of government and to use part of their fortune to support what they would characterise as the party of liberty, freedom and enterprise. They are not directly lobbying any particular policy concessions, although the access and private mobile numbers could one day be helpful. To be part of the Tory conversation with the possibility of influence is enough. (Nor can the Labour party, with its own summer fundraising event coming up this Wednesday at
The concern is much more deep-seated and profound than whether party fundraising rules have been broken - or whether the events and their guests are sufficiently transparent, important though both questions are.
What is striking about the invitation lists for both the Billingsgate and Hurlingham events is who is not on them. Mainstream business and finance were conspicuous by their absence. The big money guests are people from the darker side of global capitalism, using the leverage available in the shadow banking system over the last two decades to make fortunes in property and private equity.
I could spot no great innovators or business builders. They are almost entirely populated by the new seekers of risk-free profit, congratulating themselves on their entrepreneurial acumen when in truth their skill has been to borrow aggressively as private or family-owned companies at a time of rising asset prices away from the prying eyes of public shareholders or regulators. And then to use the many unregulated and untaxed gaps in the new global economy to hide the financial results from the authorities.
Too many for my taste have toppled over the edge and are embroiled in battles with varying authorities in their former homelands for alleged fraud or tax evasion. Small wonder Central Office was so reluctant to confirm the guest lists.
Their wealth seems proof positive in their own eyes of their genius, as well as in the eyes of uncritical members of the Conservative cabinet who bait the tables at which they sit. Nor is it any surprise that in the main they should be enthusiastic libertarians impatient not only of the state but of loyalty to country. Some sponsor exclusive US-based libertarian business associations such as the
The Tory party invokes its great tradition with portraits of Disraeli and Churchill, both of whom would turn in their graves at the new company their heirs are keeping. The aim is to complete "the project" with the 40:40 strategy : hold 40 marginals and win 40 more to win a parliamentary majority in 2015 to press on with dismantling the state, the social contract and
This is a party on its way to becoming a multinational libertarian sect, whose preoccupations are no longer those either of much of its electorate or of the business community - wrestling with how genuinely to innovate, invest and motivate workforces in a world of increasingly amoral, ownerless companies so beloved and promoted by the sect. Nor would the task of building businesses be made easier by departure from the EU, promoted passionately by prominent sect advocates such as
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