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Comment: if cash means success, shouldn’t we know whose it is?
In politics, money matters. Elections are expensive affairs and the more cash politicians can spend, the better chance they have of winning.
Money is far from the only factor, but it can be a deciding one, especially in closely contested marginal seats such as Watford. So it was interesting to note Conservative MP Richard Harrington continuing to add to his already sizeable stockpile of cash ahead of 2015.
A week or two ago, this paper revealed the backbencher registered close to £40,000 in large donations during the last year. The latest figures means the Watford Conservative Association has raked in more than £125,000 in large donations since the last election.
To put that figure in context, the Liberal Democrats and Labour branches in Watford have not registered a single penny in large donations (anything over £500) in that time.
The ability of Watford Conservatives to attract big money has improved markedly since Mr Harrington joined in 2008. Hedge funds, retail magnates, property companies, millionaire businessmen have all dumped large sums in the Watford branch’s coffers in recent years. At first glance there is nothing remarkable about this trend. As Watford is a key marginal seat it makes sense for wealthy Conservative backers keen to secure a Tory majority to strategically target their cash here.
The surge in donations seen since Mr Harrington’s arrival can also be attributed to his pedigree in the party.
Before becoming the Watford candidate, the property businessman held a number of distinguished roles for the Conservatives nationally including party treasurer, and he remains a vice chairman with responsibility for target seat campaigning. His lucrative fundraising record points to an extensive network of business and political contacts garnered before he pitched up in WD17.
Yet there is an unsettling pattern emerging in the MP’s fundraising. An increasing share of his donations are coming via an organisation called the Watford Business Club, which accounts for more than £80,000 since it first appears in the Electoral Commission’s records in 2011.
Mr Harrington has described it as a business network the branch organises and then reaps the benefits from after expenses.
However, there is oddly no mention of this business club on the Watford Conservatives’ website and its own site has been “under construction” for months. Presumably it is not a lack of funds holding up its completion. It is hard to fathom how what must be the most popular and successful business club in Hertfordshire makes so much money with such a low profile.
The Watford Business Club is not a unique phenomenon. The current risible transparency regime, run by the Electoral Commission, allows donors to anonymously funnel unlimited cash into their chosen parties via innocuous-sounding front organisations.
Such a lax system leaves one wondering why such donors crave anonymity? And why do they feel the urge to deposit their wealth into the pockets of our current and prospective rulers? But as long as the current insidious system continues, those are questions that will remain unanswered. And voters will remain in the dark about who the real patrons and paymasters of their political parties are.
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