Chris Philp, the uber-right-wing millionaire Tory party donor who expects to be the MP for Croydon South after next May’s General Election, wants to gag Inside Croydon.
Philp has written to the editor demanding that we remove our report that exposed Croydon Conservatives’ little supper club, which charges local businesses £400 and offers “the inside track” to government ministers and, at last week’s inaugural meeting, to one of the directors behind the £1 billion Hammersfield supermall in the town centre.
Philp and his side-kick, Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, banned Inside Croydon from attending their first “Croydon Business Club” event, held last week. Now, they are refusing to reveal who attended the event, or the membership list of their “Croydon Business Club”.
But both claim that their “Croydon Business Club”, which is overtly raising funds for the local Tory party, is not in any way secretive.
Our latest report followed up a piece by The Guardian’s political correspondent, Nicholas Watt, which highlighted that, on orders from Tory Central Office, local fund-raising schemes like the “Croydon Business Club” should avoid in their title any mention of the Conservative Party. This, of course, is in no way “secretive”.
Tory HQ also recommended that such schemes are deliberately named opaquely, so as not to mention parliamentary candidates. This, too, is clearly transparent and open, and in no way “secretive”.
The national newspaper quoted from an earlier report by Inside Croydon, which published Philp and Barwell’s letter of invitation to their supper club.
As Watt’s and our reports make clear, by charging £400 to join the “Croydon Business Club”, Barwell, as a sitting MP, neatly ducks under parliamentary requirements that all MPs must declare the identity of donors when they receive amounts of £1,500 or more. This is obviously done to be as open and transparent as possible, and is in no way “secretive”.
Watt even quoted the advice from Conservative HQ, who went to the trouble of reproducing the parliamentary guidelines. Our report also re-published the Tories’ own advice on their fund-raising scheme.
As we reported – but as Philp wants to have removed from the interweb – his political party is advising 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’.”
Philp wrote to Inside Croydon in an effort to claim that his “Croydon Business Club” was not being used to hide where the local party was getting its donations from. In so doing, Philp managed to confirm that the “Croydon Business Club” is doing exactly that.
“I’ve just seen your piece on the Business Club,” Philp wrote. “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. The Business Club is not being used as a smoke screen to avoid disclosure. Any subscription fees go straight to the Croydon Conservative Federation and will be treated just like any other direct political donation, and declared as required by the rules if over the size threshold.”
Philp is able to say that, because he and Barwell know that they have deliberately set the “membership fee” at a level to avoid disclosure.
Philp tried to claim that our report is “wholly untrue”. Which, of course, is the opposite of the truth.
He added: “I would be grateful if you could take the article down since its entire premise is totally untrue, or at least materially amend it so that it is clear that there is no attempt being made to evade disclosure rules.”
Our report remains online.
On Twitter, Barwell, too, adopted the Conservative Party line: to suggest “… that people give to business club then club gives to party hiding identity of donors – is not true”, Barwell claimed publicly. Seriously.
To date, no listing of the members of Barwell and Philp’s “Croydon Business Club” has been published.
We have invited both Philp and Barwell, via email and on Twitter, to share with the people of Croydon the guest list from their not-secretive-at-all first meeting of the “Croydon Business Club”, or to allow us to publish their list of paid-up members.
After all, what have they got to hide? They both maintain that their business club is not secretive.
Neither Philp nor Barwell have responded to our kind offer to assist them in the cause of openness and transparency.
Philp and Barwell have a bit of history over the financing of their election campaigns.
Barwell used to work for Lord Cashcroft, the billionaire former Conservative Party treasurer who is known for his lavish generosity towards his political party, while utilising every tax avoidance scheme under the Caribbean sun to reduce his contributions to the British Treasury.
In 2010, errors in accounting for Barwell’s campaign expenses saw his long-suffering election agent forced to appear before a judge for a slap on the wrist.
At that same election, Philp ran a losing campaign against Labour MP Glenda Jackson in Hampstead and Kilburn. “When you look at the Labour Party, 65 per cent of their funding comes from the unions – and those donations have strings attached,” Philp said at that time. So he is clearly someone who cares deeply about openness and transparency in political funding.
Philp is a former chairman of the Bow Group, just like Norman Lamont, Peter Lilley and Leon Brittan. He remains the chairman of the Tory fundraising Team 2000. There, an annual donation of £2,000 allows you to “…support and market the party’s policies in government, by hearing them first hand from the leader and key Conservative politicians through a lively programme of drinks receptions, dinner and discussion groups.”
Sound familiar? Wonder whether the members of Philp’s “Croydon Business Club” realise that he is selling them cheap, and that if they’d ponied up another 1,600 quid, they might actually get to meet David Cameron, and not have to put up with just Barwell and his Whitgift Foundation mates? And not have to be secretive about it, either.
- Daily Telegraph: Cash for access: Tory clubs which promise a date with David Cameron
- Barwell’s secretive dining club close to breaking MPs’ code
- Barwell’s bash offers Westfield influence for 400 quid
Coming to Croydon
- 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
- St Andrew’s churchyard gardening session, 10am, Dec 6
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Croydon Philharmonic Handel’s Messiah, Fairfield Halls, 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)
- Croydon Philharmonic Christmas concert, St Matthew’s, Dec 16
- 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