Why did Universal Music donate £10k to the Tory party?

Multinational media giant Vivendi has steered clear of taking political sides, until now.

The Sun had an interesting scoop yesterday. The Tory party sold a backstage pass to a Justin Bieber concert at a charity auction for £10,000. Tom Newton Dunn writes:

The meeting with Canadian Justin was sold to the highest bidder at an auction at the Tories’ annual Black and White Party to raise cash for future election campaigns…

Access to the star at his concert at London’s O2 on March 7 was donated by Universal Music UK, his record label in Britain.

But while the involvement of Bieber does make the story funnier, the real question is why Universal Music UK was making what is essentially a £10,000 in-kind-donation to the Tory Party.

Neither Mercury Records, the subsidiary of Universal Music UK which publishes Justin Bieber, nor Vivendi, the French media giant which owns Universal, were able to explain in time for publication why — or whether — the donation was made.

Corporate donations to political parties are legal and uncapped in the UK, but this would be the first time Mercury, Universal or Vivendi — whichever level of the organisation made the donation — had donated to the Conservatives since 2005 at least (when Search the Money's records begin). The company has a number of socially aware artists on its roster, including Kate Nash, K'naan and the Jam, none of whom are likely to be happy about learning that their concerts could become fundraisers for the Tories without their permission.

Bieber. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.