Cabinet Office urged to investigate fresh Tory ‘cash for honours’ scandal

Rami Ranger’s seventieth birthday party was a politically star-studded affair. Among the guests filing into the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane in July 2017 were cabinet heavyweights Sajid Javid and David Gauke. On stage, business minister Richard Harrington read a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May praising Ranger, a leading Conservative Party donor.

The next speaker, crossbench peer Lord Paul, responded: “The only thing which I can’t understand, with all Rami has done, for Britain, for India, and for the world, [is] why we are waiting so long to have him as a colleague with us in the House of Lords. Maybe the minister can take that message, that instead of a letter, we need the peerage for Rami!”

Another crossbench peer – and former Tory donor – Lord Bilimoria enthused: “You have reached the age of 70… 70 also happens to be the average age of a member of the House of Lords. The stars are aligned, Rami Ranger, Lord Ranger, we await, your seat awaits you!”

Ranger did not have to wait too long. Theresa May’s resignation honours list, released in September, announced that she was making him a Conservative peer.

The businessman – who has given more than £1.3 million to the Conservatives through his Sun Mark business – is just the latest in a long line of elite Tory donors who have received peerages, knighthoods and other honours. Many more have enjoyed access to key ministers and civil servants.

Almost 20% of an elite group of leading Tory funders have received honours after donating to the party, research by openDemocracy has found. After previous scandals, the Tories pledged to publish details about this controversial dining club, known as the Leader’s Group. But for the past eighteen months the Tories have failed to do so. Each member of the Leader’s Group must donate at least £50,000 to the Conservative Party annually; together, they have given more than £130 million over the past decade.

Reacting to our findings, Labour shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett said: “Under the Tories, the honours system has become a way for politicians to reward establishment cronies and repay favours.”

The Scottish National Party has called for the Cabinet Office to investigate, while Liberal Democrat candidate Tom Brake said: “Cash for honours is alive and well in the Conservative Party. Their willingness to dole out honours to people who have demonstrated their ‘merit’ by donating shedloads of cash to the Tory party is gobsmacking. This makes the reform of the honours system even more urgent.”

The findings come as police are investigating claims that senior Brexit Party figures were offered peerages and other opportunities in exchange for standing aside for the Tories in key marginal seats for the general election.

The Conservatives have raised record amounts in the campaign so for. Many leading Tory funders have also had numerous meetings with cabinet ministers, including some not recorded in official transparency data. One such meeting was held between Brexit secretary David Davis and Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB. Davis later went on to work as a ‘external advisor’ to JCB, earning £60,000 for twenty hours of work a year.

‘People’s Peer’

Ranger’s peerage had been widely tipped. The businessman had previously applied to be a non-partisan ‘People’s Peer’ in both 2007 and 2010, and then in 2013 unsuccessfully attempted to sue the House of Lords Appointments Commission to release the unsolicited correspondence it had received opposing his nomination.

When Ranger was made a peer in September, he told India Today that Theresa May “gave me the peerage to make sure that I support the party”.

He is not the only senior Conservative donor to receive a major honour. Almost two dozen received knighthoods or peerages after becoming major Tory funders, including billionaire knight Henry Keswick and Stanley Fink, the ‘godfather’ of the UK hedge-fund industry, who was made a lord in 2011, and has given £1.77 million to the party this decade.