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A hole in Tory finances shows the party's fortunes getting worse

Alex Wickham, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

LONDON — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s U.K. Conservatives face a grim funding outlook with a 25 million pound ($30 million) shortfall less than two years before the next election.

After Nadhim Zahawi became Tory chairman in October, he was alarmed to find the party’s operating budget was around 5 million pounds in the red, according to people familiar with the matter. At one point things were so bad that the party’s bank account went into its overdraft to pay its staff wage bill, they said.

But now Zahawi himself has gone, fired by Sunak after being “careless” with his taxes. That’s left the Tories bereft of a chairman since Jan. 29. Whoever succeeds him will inherit an unenviable task in a role that’s responsible for election fundraising and campaigning.

Zahawi’s replacement matters because with an election due in January 2025 at the latest, the Tories languish more than 20 points behind Labour in most recent polls. Moreover, their reputation for competence and stability was trashed last year when they ousted two prime ministers, sank the pound and roiled the bond market.

With cash flow into the party’s coffers drying up, whoever gets the call will face awkward conversations with Tory donors. The party needs to raise a further 25 million pounds to hire staff to work on its wars on the ground and the airwaves, the people said, asking to remain anonymous discussing internal affairs. The party needs to recruit high quality organizers, research and social media staff, they said.

But fed up with the political turmoil of the past year, big money donors are shying away. Donations dropped by 45% in the third quarter of 2022, according to the latest data from the Electoral Commission.


Instead, Britain’s super-rich are cozying up to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which is increasingly seen as a government in waiting.

Compared to the amount of money in American politics the sums are small, but in British terms the spreadsheets showed a party in a grim financial position.

Mohammed Mansour, the billionaire chair of Mansour Group who Sunak appointed as senior party treasurer, agreed to underwrite several millions of pounds of donations to keep the lights on, the people said.

A Conservative party spokesman acknowledged donations were down in 2022, but said there are signs of improvement so far in 2023. Mansour did not respond to a request for comment submitted through the Tories.


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