Serious questions are being asked about the supper club – “Just 400 quid in used notes, guv’nor, and you get the inside track with developers Westfield” – as organised by Croydon Tories Gavin Barwell and Chris Philp.
According to a report in The Guardian, the Tory funding scheme comes close to breaking MPs’ Code of Conduct, but stays within the rules by charging an amount which avoids having to declare where the money is coming from. More Arfur Daley than Arthur Wellesley.
For Philp, who has to wait until next May before the foregone conclusion of his “election” as the MP for Croydon South, that may be of little immediate concern. But the secretive little dining club represents yet another parliamentary scrape for Barwell, the gaffe-prone MP for the Whitgift Foundation.
Inside Croydon was banned from the first gathering of the “Croydon Business Club”, held at the Selsdon Park Hotel and where the Barwell-supporting John Burton, a director of Conservative Party donors Westfield, was the “guest of honour”. “The event is not open to the media,” was Philp’s explanation. You might almost think they didn’t want anyone to know what was going on.
But Inside Croydon was cited in the Guardian’s report this week, as they quoted our exclusive about the Barwell-Philp “Croydon Business Club” as a prime example of the Tories’ questionable, or desperate, conduct over political funding.
The paper reports Labour’s Jon Ashworth claims that similar Tory fund-raising “dining clubs” around the country – you didn’t think Barwell came up with the idea himself, did you? – exploit a loophole in the law which permits donations of up to £7,500 to “unincorporated associations” to be made anonymously.
Barwell is supposed to represent the people of Croydon Central, a marginal seat at next year’s General Election.
According to The Guardian, Conservative Central Office has been encouraging constituency parties in marginal seats to organise such dining “clubs”, advising them to avoid using key words such as “Conservative” or “Tory” in their title, and thus providing their secret donors with anonymity. “The club should not be named after a specific candidate, and does not need to have the word ‘Conservative’ in the name,” Tory HQ has advised their constituencies.
Avoiding mentioning the party to which he is affiliated has never been a problem for Barwell.
The Guardian reports that Tory Central Office “… warns that direct donations to MPs must be registered with Commons authorities. Its official guidelines say: ‘If the MP receives the donation directly, they will need the names and addresses of all donors who gave the club over £1,500, as additional requirements apply at the house. We advise that donations should be made to the constituency fighting fund instead, where this additional reporting does not apply’.”
The Guardian reports Ashworth as saying, “The Tories are trying to buy the election through secretive supper clubs. The Tories can’t beat Labour on the number of activists campaigning on the ground in key seats, but they have a steady stream of big donors willing to bankroll their campaign. David Cameron is encouraging his candidates to use these secretive clubs to fund their campaigns and official Conservative party guidance seems to encourage secrecy rather than transparency.”
- Barwell’s bash offers Westfield influence for 400 quid
- Barwell backs down over interns: now he wants ‘volunteers’
- Poll: Should MP Barwell resign to avoid conflicts of interest?
Coming to Croydon
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Croydon Assembly, Ruskin House, Nov 15
- Wandle Park community garden work day, Nov 16
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 16
- NCT Croydon Christmas Fair, St Mark’s Purley, Nov 16
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- David Lean Cinema, Effie Gray, Nov 20
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- David Lean Cinema, Lilting, Nov 22
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 23
- David Lean Cinema, Wakolda, Nov 27
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- Friends of the Earth Green Beanfeast, Dec 15 (book by Dec 1)
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org