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The largest private donors to the Conservatives and Labour in the current parliament were both called Lord Sainsbury, as cousins from the eponymous supermarket dynasty handed vast sums to Britain’s biggest parties.
New figures from the Electoral Commission on Thursday showed the late Lord John Sainsbury, a Conservative peer, left a record £10mn to Britain’s ruling party in his will, the biggest single sum ever given to the Tories.
His cousin Lord David Sainsbury has also been the most generous private donor to the opposition Labour party, donating £5mn in total since late 2022, according to commission data.
The donations underscore the extent to which a small number of business people are contributing large sums to the UK’s main rival parties as they prepare for a general election expected next year.
John Sainsbury was chair of the British supermarket chain for 23 years from 1969 to 1992, when he was replaced by David. He died aged 94 in January 2022, leaving an estate worth about £600mn.
He left the £10mn to the Conservative Party Foundation, which funds bursaries for parliamentary candidates rather than routine campaigning.
The gift received in September eclipses the party’s previous largest donation of £5mn, given earlier this year by Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed Mansour.
John Sainsbury, who was knighted in 1980 and made a life peer in 1989, was one of three brothers who took the family business public in 1973.
Their cousin David Sainsbury, chair of the company from 1992 to 1997, is a political left-winger who has become the most generous private donor to the Labour party in recent decades. He entered the House of Lords as a Labour life peer in 1997.
David Sainsbury was a generous donor throughout the New Labour years when Tony Blair was prime minister. An ardent Europhile, he gave money in 2016 to Labour and the Liberal Democrats — ringfencing the sums for the Remain side in the EU referendum — as well as £4mn to Britain Stronger in Europe, an anti-Brexit campaign.
His donations to Labour dried up under the “hard left” leadership of Jeremy Corbyn but he has stepped up his funding since the arrival of current leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has ditched Corbyn’s more radical agenda and expelled him from the party.
The supermarket baron gave Labour £3mn in the second quarter of this year and £2mn at the end of last year. His daughter Fran Perrin has also become a major Labour donor.
John Sainsbury’s £10mn gift to the Tories propelled the party to total donations of £15.4mn between July and September 2023. The figure also included £2mn from Graham Edwards, the party treasurer, and Malik Karim, a former treasurer who gave £250,000.
Labour, by contrast, only received £3mn of donations, including £500,000 from former Autoglass boss Gary Lubner and £362,625 from Unite the Union.
The Liberal Democrats received £1mn in donations during the third quarter.
Source: Financial Times