Top City donor abandons Tories amid signs of strained relations between party and business

Business

The Tories have been abandoned by one of their top City donors, The Independent can exclusively reveal, in what could be seen as a further sign of strained relations between the party and the business community. 

Money manager Fidelity International, which looks after the pension savings of millions of Britons, gave more than £1.1m to the party between 2007 and 2017. 

However, the firm has no entry on the Electoral Commission’s website after March 2017, when the sum of £20,000 was accepted by the party. The Independent has confirmed no donation has been made since then. 

The news comes on the same day that the CBI warned the UK car industry faces “extinction” if the UK leaves the EU customs union. CBI president Paul Drescher told the BBC Today programme that there was “zero evidence” trade deals outside the EU would be of any benefit to the UK. 

The Independent has also learned that Fidelity representatives have ceased attending events hosted by the party’s “Leaders Club” that offers big donors access to cabinet ministers up to and including Theresa May. 

To attend, companies and individuals have to have handed over at least £50,000 annually. 

Throughout the decade prior to March 2017, the fund manager, a part of the City’s aristocracy, made donations in excess of this, contributing five figures at least twice a year, and sometimes more frequently still.

The payments ranged in value from £10,000, made to the London region in 2014, to as much as £150,000, to the central party in 2010.  

Peter Horrell, a Fidelity director, last attended a “Leader’s Group” meal in the first quarter of 2017 when events were also attended by foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Communities, and now Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, and the prime minister. 

The privately owned firm is one of the City’s biggest money managers, handling around £300bn for clients across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and South America. 

It declined to comment on the reasons for it turning off the tap when approached by The Independent.  

Because of the firm’s prestige, its loss as a donor could be seen as a blow to the party for reasons beyond the simply financial, at a time when the Tories have been seeking to use Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party as a means of persuading nervous business leaders to fund the party. 

Its website urges “party patrons to help us defeat the rise of socialism” and seeks to tempt “business professionals alarmed by Labour’s left wing rhetoric who want to get more involved”. 

Despite this, the business community has become increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the party’s performance, and particularly the uncertainties created by the Brexit processes. 

It has seen hardcore Brexiteers including Mr Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis more or less openly expressing dissent.  

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: “The Conservatives were always supposed to be the party of business but it seems that relationship is fraying as a result of its mistaken policies including the pursuit of a chaotic hard Brexit.” 

Other complaints tabled by business include the way the Apprenticeship Levy operates and the difficulties businesses have had in attracting staff with skills that are in short supply from overseas because of the Home Office’s hardline immigration stance. 

In a recent letter to the prime minister, the British Chambers of Commerce was moved to say that “the many thousands of firms we collectively represent are clear: business as usual is not good enough at a time of significant uncertainty” while calling for an end to the current “uncertainty”.  

Fidelity became an outspoken campaigner for executive pay reform under former investment chief Dominic Rossi.  

Its activism could be seen as at odds with its funding of the Conservative Party. Corporate governance watchdog Pirc, for example, routinely advises investors to vote against the annual reports of public companies that make political donations. 

The Conservative Party has been approached for comment. 

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