The people funding the Tory party: there are fewer of them than you think

New research shows that more than half of the party’s donations in the last decade came from just 50

You've heard of Michael Ashcroft – the billionaire who supposedly "owns" the Tory party – but what of Irvine Laidlaw or Michael Spencer?

Although he was targeted by the press because of his questionable tax status, Ashcroft has for many become synonymous with big cash donations and the influence that comes with it. But he is by no means the Conservative Party's biggest donor. New research by the LSE reveals the way in which huge donors are able largely to avoid publicity, while staying completely within the law, by splitting up donations between family members or personal and company donations.

By collating cash given by the Tories' biggest donors, as well as that given by their husbands, wives, family members, business partners or companies, researchers have built up a detailed picture of the people funding the party.

They found that, in the past decade, £72m – more than half of the party's declared cash donation income – was donated to the Conservative Party by just 50 of these "donor groups".

Of this, £44.5m – amounting to just under one-third (31.9 per cent) of total donations – came from the top 15.

The Tory donor Stuart Wheeler made headlines last month when he said that it was "absolutely natural and unobjectionable" for big donors to gain influence over policy, and called for the cap to be scrapped. In response to the charge that this "big donor" culture had made politics less fair, he said: "Fairness isn't the be all and end all."

Evidently, some tightening up needs to be done to ensure that the spirit as well as the letter of the law placing a cap on donations is obeyed.

You can view the list of big cash donors to the Conservative Party here.

NOTE: There is no suggestion that the Conservatives are unique in this respect. Previous LSE research highlighted the importance of big donors to all three of the major political parties.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.