Can a Labour politician whose upward trajectory is financially propelled by a “lobbygate” Lord, an heiress of the Sainsbury supermarket dynasty, and numerous Blairite millionaires, really be the frontrunner to lead the party ostensibly of, and for, the working class?
Corporate journalists think so! When a member of the mainstream media writes about Shadow Secretary of State for Health Wes Streeting it is almost mandatory for them to include the prefix “rising star of the Labour Party”. If that’s getting a bit tired, “future leader of the Labour Party” will do.
“I’m not your typical politician. I come from a working class family in Tower Hamlets. I funded myself through college and university with retail jobs and I spent my professional career working outside politics in the voluntary sector.”
Certainly Streeting’s personal experience of childhood poverty and attainment through hard-work, rather than nepotism, will resonate with many working-class voters and Labour members. But can a Labour politician, funded by the inherited wealth of those that own Sainsburys, really claim to represent those that work in Sainsburys?
Despite claiming to have spent his professional career as a political outsider, Streeting is no stranger to overtly political roles, as well as those with a political dimension. A Cambridge graduate, Streeting is a former President of the National Union of Students and worked as Head of Education at Stonewall. After graduating, Streeting worked for the New Labour embedded think-tank Progress Ltd.
Streeting’s partner, Joseph Dancey, is the Director of PR and Strategy firm Endeavour Advisory Ltd. Dancey is a former Special Advisor to Peter Mandelson and Baroness Valerie Amos.
Supporting Owen Smith’s leadership challenge in 2016, Streeting was a frequent and vocal critic of then Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and continues in his calls to marginalise the left-wing of the Party:
“My misgivings, serious misgivings to put it mildly about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership are well known and I think now is the time for the party to turn a corner under fresh leadership and a new generation.”
In the immediate aftermath of the 2019 election loss, Streeting outlined his political imperatives:
“It is about having extreme centre-left politics that can win the trust and confidence of the country so we can govern in the interests of the many, not the few.”
Leaving aside the doublespeak of “extreme centre-left politics”, do those donating large sums to Wes Streeting really represent the interests of the many?
For some introductory context, here is a comparison of donations between Streeting and his left-wing contemporary from the 2015 election intake, Richard Burgon.
Since 2015, Wes Streeting has registered £115,555 in donations from 10 individuals or organisations (see below). For comparison, Richard Burgon, in the same period, has registered less than half this amount and all from a single donor. He has registered £54,735 since 2015, all from Unite The Union.
[For simplicity we have documented only those donors registered with the Electoral commission.]
In January 2022, Wes Streeting registered a £15,000 donation from John Armitage. Ranked 138 on the 2021 Times Rich List, Armitage is the billionaire co-founder of the hedge-fund firm Egerton Capital. Historically he has been a major patron of the Conservative Party, donating over £3,000,000 since 2014. He donated £12,500 to Labour in 2021in apparent protest at Boris Johnson’s leadership.
RED CAPITAL Ltd £5,000
In December 2021, Streeting registered a donation from a Private Limited Company called Red Capital Ltd. Red Capital was founded and is still run by Lord Jonathan Mendelsohn. He is a lobbyist and executive who was deeply embedded in the New Labour project, acting as Director of general election resources for the Party in 2007.
A former Director of Progress Ltd, he founded the “ethical” lobbying firm LLM Communications with Derek Draper. Both he and Draper were embroiled in the “lobbygate” scandal where they were accused of selling privileged access to Labour ministers, and gaining beneficial tax legislation for corporate clients.
Mendelsohn was relegated to the Labour backbenches in the House of Lords by Jeremy Corbyn after attending the notorious President’s Dinner of 2018, although he was not involved in any of the harassment of young female staff at the event. He is also a former Chairman of Labour Friends of Israel.
Mendelsohn donated £10,000 to Streeting’s former employer Progress ltd, as well as Gordon Brown and Peter Hain. Through Red Capital he has donated to Bill Esterson, Luciana Berger and Yvette Cooper. It has been 5 years since Mendelsohn/ Red Capital last made a donation, so clearly Streeting has caught the eye of this particular political operator.
Francesca Perrin £20,000
Francesca Perrin is the daughter of billionaire Lord Sainsbury of the supermarket dynasty. She is a former advisor at the Prime Minister’s strategy unit and a board member of various philanthropic organisations. Her husband, William Perrin, was technology policy advisor and private secretary to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Perrin donated £250,000 to Labour in May 2021.
Trevor Chinn £10,000
Sir Trevor Chinn is a regular in our articles, so if you don’t know him by now here is a brief recap!
The millionaire entrepreneur and long-term donor to the Labour Party has had numerous roles in equity and investment, and has been Chief Executive of the RAC. He was a major contributor to Tony Blair’s Labour Leader’s Office Fund and is currently listed as a Director of Labour Together. He is a Vice President of the Jewish Leadership Council, and a former Chairman of the London Mayor’s Fund, appointed by Boris Johnson.
Chinn has served as President of the United Jewish Israel Appeal and on the Executive Committee of BICOM. He is a Trustee of the New Israel Fund as well as sponsoring both Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel Parliamentary Groups.
Chinn historically has donated over £840,000 to Labour entities, including substantial funds to anti-Corbyn pressure groups Labour Together, Remain Labour, Saving Labour and Movement For Change as well as MP’s including Angela Raynor, Tom Watson, Ian Austin and Rachel Reeves. He gave £27,000 to Owen Smith’s Leadership bid, and £50,000 to Keir Starmer.
Wes Streeting was one of the founding members of the Labour Together project.
MPM Connect £15,000/ Peter Hearn £40,000
Like Yvette Cooper in our previous article, Wes Streeting has received substantial donations from both former Conservative donor Peter Hearn, and the company he is a registered Director of, MPM Connect. Combined Streeting received £55,000 from the multi-millionaire accountant and his company. Dan Jarvis is also a regular beneficiary.
Lord Waheed Alli £10,000/ BM Creative £4,000
Another familiar face is Lord Waheed Alli and his company, BM Creative.
He is a Labour Peer, media executive and LGBTQ+ activist. He was formerly an investment banker and is currently on the Board of Silvergate Media and Olga Productions, having previously worked for Chorion and Endemol. He was also a Chairman of ASOS. He worked with David Cameron at Carlton Communications and as part of Tony Blair’s election team. He co-founded Shine Limited with Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert.
As well as giving Keir Starmer £100,000 for his leadership campaign, Alli has donated directly to his friend Emily Thornberry MP, Jess Philips, Owen Smith, Angela Eagle, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham. Ali’s partner Charlie Parsons donated £75,000 to Owen Smith.
Anthony Watson £18,500
Anthony Watson is a millionaire entrepreneur and banker who has just launched a new bank, with Peter Mandelson serving as Vice-Chair.
Watson has previously been an executive at Nike, Barclays, Wells Fargo and cryptocurrency firm Uphold. He has also held various advisory roles within the Labour Party including Chair of the Business and Enterprise Advisory Council and as an Advisor to Dawn Butler on LGBTQ+ issues.
He gave Owen Smith £67,550 for his leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn. Other beneficiaries include Dawn Butler, Angela Eagle and Yvette Cooper.
Ben Gillam £5,000
We have been unable to definitively verify the identity of Ben Gillam. It is unclear if he is the same Benjamin Gillam that donated £20,000 to Tim Farron’s constituency in 2019.
Community Union £6,000
The Trade Union Community supported Owen Smith’s attempt to gain leadership of the Labour Party from Jeremy Corbyn. We covered them in our previous article.
Community also donated £25,000 to Keir Starmer, as well as to Ian Murray, Stephen Kinnock and Labour Tomorrow.
In his book Violence, Slavoj Zizek wrote about what he calls “Liberal Communists”. These are wealthy philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, who, having amassed vast fortunes from the labour of others, go on to make a show of benevolent donations to worthy causes. Zizek postulates that:
“today’s liberal communists give away with one hand what they grabbed with the other. According to liberal communist ethics, the ruthless pursuit of profit is counteracted by charity: charity is part of the game, a humanitarian mask hiding the underlying economic exploitation”.
This idea can also be applied to the millionaire donors to Wes Streeting and Labour. At best, these wealthy individuals are funding politicians they believe can enact policies that may, superficially, improve the lives of the working class victims of the capitalist economic system.
At worst, their political patronage is a cynical attempt to neuter an ostensibly Socialist Party from enacting any real alternative to Tory rule and policy, protecting their profits rather than their personnel.
Are Streeting’s “extreme centre-left” politics really just the politics of cognitive dissonance?
How can he stand up against the hands that grab when those same hands are writing him cheques?
Follow Sean Rankin on Twitter: @ClydesiderRed