The £500,000 donations for Liz Truss’ Tory leadership campaign

The Guardian has broken a horrifying and believable story that Liz Truss raised £500,000 in donations for her Tory leadership campaign with “about half of it coming from donors linked to hedge fund bosses, venture capitalists and other City financiers”.

In August Liberal Democrat Voice ran an article where I suggested that the Tory leadership campaign was looking like a presidential election — with a tiny, and unrepresentative electorate. That tips power further from Parliament to No.10 and pretends that the new leader has an entirely false legitimacy.

News of these donations takes this to a whole new level.

Of course, a leadership campaign costs money. A large number of small donations from Tory members would have been an early indication of support. But the actual donations are large, mostly in excess of £5,000, and the largest being £100,000. That looks like a small number of people having a large influence. Have we just seen a Prime Minister chosen by the 172,437 members of the Conservative party, or by the handful who put up the money?

Is Liz Truss’ perception of “the national interest” shaped by the perspectives of those who funded her campaign? Or did some wealthy backers find someone who could be bent to their interests?

The Guardian article is worth reading in full. Among its observations is that one donor gave similar donations to Rishi Sunak and Penny Morduant, which I hear as gaining influence over whoever was elected. It’s hard to track from donations to policy, but one donor also supports a think tank that supports the denial of climate change, and King Charles has withdrawn from plans to attend COP27 on the “advice of Liz Truss”. The article also says the expenditure limit was £300,000.

Maybe recent polls will cause the Tories to do a handbrake turn, ditching Truss and finding someone more suitable. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be living with the stench of big money bending the government to its interests, and the reality of a government that seems deaf to the harm they are doing. The hope is that people will vote them out in the next General Election. But how many will have been so ground down by the struggle to survive, and the sense that they’ve been ignored, that they simply don’t vote?

Passing the votes for a party leader to the party’s members seems democratic. It’s something we in the Liberal Democrats also do. But shouldn’t the choice of Prime Minister be made by MPs (or at least, the governing party’s MPs), acting in the best interests of all of their constituents?

Would Labour have chosen Jeremy Corbyn if their MPs too had chosen someone on behalf of all the people they represent? That matters because it’s possible to argue that, in 2019, many people voted Tory out of fear of Labour under Corbyn — so their hard left inadvertently saddled us with a dysfunctional Tory government.

As Liberal Democrats we are some way from our leader being likely to become Prime Minister, but we too need to think about this.

For now, the funding of her campaign for leader adds to the long lists of reasons to be sceptical about Liz Truss — who’s been in office for barely a month.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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5 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Oct '22 - 2:37pm

    This piece by Mark is as interesting and useful as it is intelligent and necessary. But the contestant or candidate Truss governing for her donors is no shock.

    Vested interests we come to expect from this present govt, made worse by this new Prime Minister.

    They speak for a tiny minority of rich people who care little for the welfare, yes that detested word, of the people who struggle.

    They make the new King , yes that man so absurdly excluded from the COP , meeting, seem like a humanitarian radical . Acually a one nation Tory would seem like that in comparison to this present right wing govt, the worst in modern era politics.

  • nvelope2003 7th Oct '22 - 3:14pm

    In recent local by-elections the Conservatives have gained votes in some seats and where they fell back it was not very heavily. With the odd exception Labour and the Liberal Democrats have not done particularly well, although Lib Dems came within 4 votes of taking Butleigh and Baltonsborough in a Mendip DC by election. The opinion polls do not seem to reflect actual voting in local by-elections.

  • It is always tricky trying to relate real votes in local elections to nationwide opinion polls. However, lacklustre performances by Labour in local elections have been fairly consistent of late. It is as if the soaring national opinion poll ratings belong to a different world. Perhaps some scepticism is appropriate on both fronts. That being said, in the half dozen by-elections yesterday Labour were absent in two, gained a seat in Shropshire with an increased vote share of 6%, suffered a disastrous loss to Plaid Cymri in Ceredigion, dropping from unopposed to third place. In the remaining two the vote share rose by 2% in an ultra-safe defence and dropped by 2.4% in the other where the Lib Dem vote doubled (still only enough to get us to 20%). There seems to a lack of enthusiasm but whether this is simply down to voters or the activists who knows?

  • Yes, it is always difficult to truely compare national opinion polls to actual real votes in real ballot boxes particularly for local government by elections where there are often very local factors at work but you would expect that these soaring and fantastical poll figures for Labour would have started to be reflected in these contests and as yet that isn’t happening a great deal.

    Next week and from then on may give us more of a clue as to the real electoral reality on the ground.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is a shy Tory factor in the national polls at the moment. Who, after all, would openly admit intending to vote for this shambolic and utterly incompetent administration?In 1992 all the pollsters confidently predicted a hung parliament but when the real votes were counted the Tories won a fourth term in office with a small majority.

  • Martin Gray 8th Oct '22 - 7:29am

    Take local council elections & by-election results with a pinch of salt – turnout , local issues, all have an effect .
    They have proven to be a poor indicator come the GE .

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