A tiny group of old, white, rich men are bankrolling our democracy

The Electoral Commission have published details of large donations (over £7,500) to political parties during the the last quarter of 2018. What it reveals is the same old trend, but it’s a trend we should be furious about.

Over £10 million was donated to the parties over three months, Over £7.4 million, or 71% of that went to the Conservative party’s coffers. By comparison, Labour received around £1.4m, almost all from trades unions. This money is made up of small subscriptions from union members opting in to a political fund.

I doubt you’ll be surprised that Conservatives are the most successful at getting the rich to part with their cash, but let’s take a closer look at who exactly made the donations:


  1. Theatre producer John Gore chipped in a whopping £1.5m, more money than most of us will earn over our entire lives. Educated at the elite Harrow public school, we can guess he’s fairly relaxed with the status quo.


2. Digger company JCB handed over £666,667. Its billionaire Chair Lord Bamford is a long-time donor to the Conservative party, a key funder of Vote Leave and used his donations to back Boris Johnson for party leader. The 73 year old is also part of the 7% who went to private school.


3. Mining magnate Mick Davies - another long standing Conservative donor handed over £295,000. He paid Ben Bradley MPs’ legal bills after he falsely accused Jeremy Corbyn of "selling British secrets to communist spies in the 1980s".

4. IPGL, which donated just over half a million pounds is the holding company for ex-Tory treasurer Michael Spencer’s wealth. The 63 year old hedge fund manager also went to a private boarding school and is believed to be worth £800m.



In a real democracy, shouldn’t parties compete on how well they energise the public with big ideas to solve the challenges facing them, rather than who can convince the most rich people to open their wallets?

These enormous donations are distorting our democracy. For an annual fee of £25,000 - almost the entire average salary, the Conservatives offer briefings from the Chancellor himself and an exclusive space to share your opinions. When it comes to setting government policy, we can be confident those with the means are much more likely to be listened to on business regulation, workers’ rights, or Brexit.

In fact, we documented all the different ways the rich buy a seat at the table in our How to be a dodgy donor guide.

When our democracy is bankrolled by such an unrepresentative group of people it reinforces existing inequalities in our society. Women, people of colour and young people all earn less than average, and are far more precarious positions in housing and the wider economy. So if you’re a woman of colour who wants your views heard in our politics, you’re likely going to really struggle to scrape together a donation that even gets noticed by comparison.

“This is a case of rich white men using their entrenched privilege, wealth and power to make sure the interests of rich white men are centered in politics”

Income inequality in Britain is so out of control that the richest can donate what to them is pocket change, but to the rest of us is more than we will earn in a lifetime. This is a case of rich white men using their entrenched privilege, wealth and power to make sure the interests of rich white men are centered in politics. But this scandal of unfair influence goes undiscussed - apart from cursory coverage of the numbers on the BBC and the Guardian, there’s little debate about what this means for the health of our democracy.

If we want justice for everyone, we have to upend this state of affairs. We need to make these donations illegitimate in the public debate. Why shouldn’t we organise protests or pickets against these companies and individuals until they stop distorting our democracy? Making this behaviour unacceptable and starving the system like this could be a critical first step to deeper reforms for how our government works. It short-circuits the ability of a wealthy minority to block policies most of the public support and would benefit from.


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Sam CoatesComment