Nigel Farage may be winning over the man in the street with his pub-loving image, but the sources of Ukip’s funds inhabit far more elevated circles, as Anne McElvoy discovers.
The Right Moves
The host is a generous party donor, with enviable business success behind him and the Jacobean castle to show for it. The food is exquisite, good wine plentiful and company diverse (aforesaid donor has a clutch of glamorous daughters, including a supermodel). A former Chancellor of the Exchequer holds forth about the eurozone, joined by a Jardine’s bigwig with a spouse from a Tory prime ministerial dynasty and a renegade member of Michael Gove’s team.
It is the perfect Tory country house weekend, but for one factor: Stuart Wheeler has long stopped handing out spare millions to the Conservative Party. Since 2011 he has been one of the main donors to Ukip, donating some £360,000 in the past two years, and was until recently the party’s treasurer. The march of the Faragistas may scare Conservatives (and to a lesser extent blue-collar Labour) with their earthy appeal to disaffected voters. Less noted is the extent to which the party has steadily peeled away support and donors from wealthy sorts who would once have helped swell the Tory war chest.
For an outfit that likes to boast of its affinity with the ordinary Joe or Joanne and their frustration with political elites, Ukip has quietly been extending its charm offensive into the sisal-carpeted dens of the City, garnering funds and support from the sort of chaps (and it is still mainly chaps) who would once have rocked up at the Black and White ball to josh with Dave and dance with Sam Cam and left a discreetly large donation in their wake.
Betting on Nigel
Wheeler, founder of the IG Index spread-betting company and an impressive gambler himself (he was once banned from Caesars Palace and placed on a blacklist of those deemed too much of a liability to the house), gave £5 million to the Conservative Party during the 2001 election campaign: the single largest donation on record. A decade later he had absconded to Ukip. Tory Central Office claimed an amicable parting, though Wheeler remembers ‘being ousted by fax’.
Their loss was Nigel Farage’s gain. A frequent guest at Wheeler’s Kent home, Chilham Castle, Farage once enlivened an evening’s challenge to distinguish a vintage champagne from a Château Sainsbury’s, waving away abject failure by noting that the ‘beer and fags’ might have distorted his palate.
The other main figure aiding Ukip’s electoral tin-rattle is Paul Sykes, a Yorkshire businessman and former Tory constituency chairman, who made money out of reconditioning buses and property development. A spikier figure than Wheeler, Sykes says he can’t stand shopping and doesn’t give Christmas presents, but he has nonetheless shown a generous side to Ukip, funding its election posters in the European elections and donating some £4 million to the cause overall.
Besides such major givers, the Farage fundraising drive has attracted a host of other financial scions who are forking out substantial amounts, often to send a disgruntled message to David Cameron and George Osborne. They include Lord Hesketh, a serial junior minister under Margaret Thatcher and a former Tory party treasurer.
Friends, including the Daily Mail columnist Simon Heffer, say Hesketh’s motivation is frustration at the sacrifice of parliamentary powers to Europe and the state of the coalition, with the Lib Dems ‘chipping away at what the Tories are trying to achieve’. Other former senior members of Team Maggie suspect it is a result of bitter infighting among the Tories about how to handle Lords reform: Hesketh lost his seat there when hereditary peers shed the automatic right to sit in the upper chamber.
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