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Labour’s red wave sweeps City as Tories ‘party on the Titanic’

starmer and reeves
Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves' charm offensive has won Labour friends in the Square Mile - Labour Party

Trailing 20 points behind Labour in the polls, Rishi Sunak and his party can be forgiven for feeling under siege. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that they held the Tory Winter Ball at Whitehall’s former War Office.

Now a luxury hotel where the cheapest rooms cost over £1,000, the Conservative Party invited donors and supporters to Raffles London in a bid to drum up support and fill the coffers ahead of the election battle.

Gyles Brandreth, the former Conservative MP turned broadcaster, compered the event and “did an excellent job keeping everyone entertained”.

The same can’t be said for the Tory Party.


“I have to go,” sighs one longstanding donor. “I’m a dyed-in-the-wool supporter.”

The begrudging attendee admits he has significantly reduced his donations as the party stares defeat in the face.

Maudlin humour about the Conservatives has set in within the City, usually a party stronghold. Hours before the event kicked off, a senior banker asks why anybody who isn’t still a big donor would bother attending the winter ball. “It’s the last party on the Titanic,” came the reply.

The sinking ship analogy underlines how many friends in the Square Mile the Conservatives have lost, with a poll last week revealing that support for the Tories in London has hit just 17pc.

Even those still donating to the party bemoan the high turnover of ministers in key departments. At least one regular stayed away from this year’s winter fundraising event, where auctions included clay pigeon shooting with Home Secretary James Cleverly or sushi with Jeremy Hunt.

Former donor Charlie Mullins, the millionaire Pimlico Plumbers’ founder who stopped donating to the party after Brexit, argues that “all the money in the world won’t boost the Tories’ election chances”.

Tory insiders are aware they can no longer count on the City in the way they once did.

During the 2015 election campaign, ex-party chair Andrew Feldman convinced more than 100 senior executives from companies employing more than half a million people to endorse Conservative economic policies in an open letter.

At a recent dinner, which was attended by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, sources say Feldman noted that there “wouldn’t be the same letter campaign from businesses this election”. Everyone in the room knew it would be impossible to pull the same trick now.

While the Tories are losing friends in the City, Labour is gaining them.

Bankers and finance companies have handed Labour £2m since 2022, Open Democracy said last month.

Former Tory donors who now back Labour include fund manager Kasim Kutay, who runs life sciences investor Novo Holdings, and entrepreneur and investor Gareth Quarry. Ex-Tory donor and boss of supermarket chain Iceland, Richard Walker, has also switched his allegiance to Labour.

Billionaire property tycoon Nick Candy, who donated to the Conservatives under Boris Johnson, suggested last month that he could support Labour at the next election. “Maybe it’s time for some change,” he said.

This red wave is sparking panic among still-loyal Tory donors. Healthcare technology entrepreneur Frank Hester is now the largest ever Conservative donor after giving £5m to the party for the second time, a donation set to be formally announced by the Electoral Commission this week.

“I wouldn’t be giving him any money if he was 20 points ahead,” Hester admitted.

Even though Sir Keir Starmer has been celebrating the number of financial backers returning to the party as it rides high in the polls, the Tory party’s supporters have deep pockets.

The Conservatives are still raking in much more in private donations than Labour – five times more last summer after John Sainsbury left a record donation of £10m to the Conservatives in his will. (His cousin, Lord Sainsbury of Turville is conversely the biggest private financial backer of Labour.)

Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed Mansour gave £5m to the party last spring
Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed Mansour gave £5m to the party last spring - Paul Grover

A small number of mega-donors will significantly boost the Tories’ coffers. Hester has not ruled out another £5m gift before the general election: “If it’s going to help Rishi, then I would say, ‘never say never’.”

Mohamed Mansour, an Egyptian-born billionaire, gave £5m to the party last spring.

Wealthy donors spotted walking into the Tory fundraising ball last week included Lubov Chernukhin, a banker married to Vladimir Putin’s former deputy finance minister who has donated millions to the party and previously bid tens of thousands of pounds to play tennis with Boris Johnson.

Parmjit Dhanda, a former Labour government minister, warned last week that Labour needs to be careful because it has “always been in danger of being outspent by a wealthy Conservative Party”.

Both parties are eager to fill their pre-election war chests after the Government raised spending limits for general elections from £19m to £34m. It sets up what will become the most expensive election year ever.

The holy grail will be the mega-donors willing to donate millions. Labour’s £1m-plus donors include ex-Autoglass chief Gary Lubner, supermarket baron Lord David Sainsbury and his daughter, Fran Perrin, who previously acted as an adviser under Tony Blair.

The Tories, meanwhile, will be nervously hoping that their biggest backers in the past will return this time around.

Pimlico Plumbers founder Mullins wouldn’t bet on it: “Right now, the people I know with money are buying Swiss Francs, not giving it to the Conservatives.”