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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.