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With a little help from her friends

Despite the backing of banker buddies, the Work and Pensions Secretary's constituency hangs in the balance: SOLOMON HUGHES gets stuck into Amber Rudd

AMBER RUDD has returned to government very quickly, despite having to leave her former home secretary job because of her involvement in the Windrush scandal.

Rudd is now back in government where, as the new work and pensions secretary, she is in charge of benefits. Putting Rudd in charge of poor people makes sense from a Tory point of view, because Rudd is very strongly backed by rich people.

If you look at the Register of MPs’ interests, it is clear Rudd can count on City folk for support. And for the Conservatives, being backed by bankers is a strong qualification for getting an important job.

Rudd is defending a very narrow 346 vote majority in her constituency, Hastings and Rye, on the south coast.

It hasn’t helped that she insulted her less well-off constituents. In 2013, she told the Financial Times that too many unemployed people moved to Hastings and that “you get people who are on benefits who prefer to be on benefits by the seaside. They’re not moving down here to get a job. They’re moving down here to have easier access to friends and drugs and drink.”

So Rudd’s friends are throwing cash at her Constituency Conservative Party to help her fight off the Labour challenge. The Register of MPs’ interests shows a series of donations to her local Conservative Party. The money is there to help Hastings Tories campaign to get her re-elected.

This years’ donations include £10k from Sarah Kowitz, donated the day after Rudd had to resign as Home Secretary. She is the wife of David Kowitz, founder-manager of Far East investment firm Indus Capital, and the couple live in a mock-castle manor house, Fairlight Hall, overlooking Hastings.

There’s £2k from Christopher Gent. A long-term Tory supporter, Gent has been the boss of mobile phone firm Vodafone and chairman of drug firm GlaxoSmithKline. He was also a director of Lehman Brothers as the giant bank went bust, sparking the global financial crisis. Gent backed the huge bonuses for Dick Fuld, the Lehman boss who drove the bank into the crash.

Another £2k from Ashok Gadhia. He is the husband of Jayne-Anne Gadhia, until recently the chief executive of Virgin Money. She led Virgin Money when it bought Northern Rock from the government which owned Northern Rock because it went bust in the financial crash and had to be nationalised. Virgin Money cashed in by buying Northern Rock cheaply from the taxpayer.

Yet another £2k from Alexia Florman. Her husband Mark Florman founded merchant bankers Maizels Westerberg and is now chairman of finance firm Spayne Lindsay.

He also helped found Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank the Centre for Social Justice. Alexia Florman gave a big donation to the “Conservatives In” campaign during the EU Referendum.

You might think this donation reflects Rudd’s “liberal remain” credentials, but Rudd’s local party also got £10k this year from Growth Financial Services — a Mayfair financial management company owned and controlled by private equity investor Christopher Mills.

As well as backing Rudd, Christopher Mills is also a significant UKIP backer. Mills’s Growth Financial Services gave UKIP £1.2m between 2014 and 2017. Christopher Mills was until recently UKIP deputy treasurer and business spokesman.

So why is Rudd’s local party supported by a big donation from a UKIP Brexiteer as well as a Tory remainer? The answer seems to be that banking is more important than where Rudd stands on Brexit.

Rudd was herself formerly a JP Morgan banker. She has excellent City connections. Her brother Roland Rudd runs Finsbury, one of the most powerful PR firms in the City, so all her banking friends seem to have rallied round to help her hang on to her small-majority seat.

The money is a sign that Rudd is well liked by City interests. Being the bankers’ pal makes you big in the Tories. So Conservative logic says that being backed by the big money is the best qualification for being in charge of the poor folk.

Commons People

Every year Parliament releases a list of which MPs booked functions and events in prestigious House of Commons rooms. It’s a good guide to who wants to lobby MPs. An event in the Commons itself is a good way to get hold of MPs. And having an MP make the booking definitely increases the chances of getting others along.

The latest list, released in October, offers another glimpse into how big tech firm Google wants to get close to MPs. As Google faces more demands for regulation and higher taxation, they are responding by inviting MPs to breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Google persuaded five Tory MPs to book rooms for them. The list shows that Google uses commercial lobbyists and “think tanks” and other intermediaries to reach MPS.

So Bim Afolami, Tory MP for Hitchen & Harpenden, booked a joint lunch held by Google and think tank IPPR. Nigel Huddleson, Tory MP for Mid Worcestershire, booked a Google reception that was held jointly with English Heritage, the charity looking after historic buildings. Some Google events didn’t have a “partner” but did have a worthy-sounding title. So Kemi Badenoch, a Tory MP and one of the party’s “vice chairs “ — supposedly future stars of the party — booked a Google dinner described as a New Skills Agenda event. Paul Masterton, Tory MP for the Scottish seat of East Renfrewshire, also booked a Google dinner.

Commercial lobbyists Teneo Blue Rubicon worked with Google to book a breakfast about The Future of News booked by Ed Vaizey MP, a Tory former culture minister, so quite a big hitter. Teneo Blue Rubicon was also involved in the only Google event booked by a Labour MP. Wes Streeting, the “Corbyn-sceptic” Labour MP for Ilford North booked the Google Campus Dinner, which was also listed as a Teneo Blue Rubicon event.

Aside from Teneo Blue Rubicon and Google, Streeting seemed to be involved in a few other corporate events in Parliament arranged by lobbyists. He booked a Lloyds Bank reception organised by lobbyists Grayling Communications and a Mastercard lunch organised by lobbyists FTI Consulting. Plenty of “New Labour” insiders went on to work for commercial lobbyists, so perhaps Streeting’s meetings reflect this milieu.


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