The Conservatives have their black-tie billionaire-laden black-and-white ball tonight – an event shrouded in secrecy. So your spy, Mr Steerpike, is live-blogging it. I’ve already noticed a porn baron or two amongst the guests. But for all of the jolity, where is the cash? The commodity/emerging market crash seems to have hit the pockets of the bidders rather hard. Either that, or they think ten years of Tory government are in the bag. Here’s the live blog:-
10.40pm Things are drawing to a close now – MPs who haven’t been drinking have just done a runner. Perhaps humiliated, on Cameron’s behalf, at the paltry sums that this auction has raised. Cameron himself doesn’t look like he’s having too much fun. Black and white – and red with embarrassment.
10.30pm Oh dear. The sums are more like a church auction than a Tory plutocrat ball. A “personalised composition by Julian Gallant” has just gone for £400. He’s a famed concert pianist and conductor: this time last year, it would have gone for £4,000. Next: a London helicopter ride for… £1,050. Seriously, there are primary schools in West London that could fetch better prices for these auction lots.
10.20pm This is getting embarrassing. A £1,000 Kurt Geiger voucher has just sold for… £1,020 (congratulations, Mrs Thrashing Pankaj, you can sell it on eBay and count tonight as a cheap night out). I have to say – at this rate it’s not clear that Cameron will hit his £2 million fundraising target. If this auction wasn’t sponsored by Shore Capital (whose name is emblazoned on the screen in front of us) it might not even cover its costs.
10.10pm Hmmm, a £1,000 Selfridges gift card (yes, they exist) has gone for £1,500. Not exactly the premium of the year. Funny how, when access is not on offer, no one seems willing to pay very much.
10.05pm And it’s Lord Feldman, Tory chairman and our auctioneer for Lot 8. “Win a day of campaigning with Zac Goldsmith”. Yes, seriously. The “opportunity to gain a unique insight into this important campaign” (the insight being that Zac is doomed). And a chance to “reflect on the campaign over lunch” with Feldman himself. Money can’t buy… except it can. This has just gone for £35,000. Some Mayfair developer must want planning permission pretty badly.
10pm They’re selling election posters. Who’d buy those, you might ask? Well, welcome to the magic of the Black & White ball. What falls off the printers can often be snapped up for a huge sum by an Asian telecom company that isn’t legally allowed to donate. You think I jest? The posters just went for £50,000.
9.45pm Finally, something semi-decent: 20 tickets to see Adele – they’ve gone for £30,000. That works out as £1,500 a ticket: let’s hope that doesn’t also get them the company of a Cabinet minister for the evening.
9.35pm. The opening pages are pretty staid, pretty Downton; pretty Tory. Lot 1: A private weekend at Henwick House. Lot 2: A weekend shoot at Easton Neston. Lot 3: private golf course stay for eight. Yawn.
9.30pm Flicking through the auction brochure, Mr Steerpike is amused to find a ‘political donations guide’ reminding the oligarchs present that they’re not allowed to use tonight to bribe their way on to a tennis court with Boris Johnson. Not sure that you’re on the UK electoral register? “Don’t worry, we will check the register for you!”. And if you are a Moscow-based plutocrat, no doubt give some discreet advice about how to launder the donation.
9pm So here’s Cameron, regaling the crowd with a souped-up version of his new social justice spiel, and it’s going down well. He skims over Europe, saying the issue must be decided – but he doesn’t say much about which way it should be decided. (Clever move: he won’t want to annoy any potential bidders!) He saves his verbal firepower for the progressive case for Conservatism, railing against Islamist repression of women’s rights. So it was a leftie speech for right-wingers: but not the speech of a Prime Minister asking the audience to back him in the EU referendum.
8pm: It should be quite a night: it’s staged at the 18th-century Brewery in Chiswell Street. Guests spotted so far: Howard Shore, executive chairman of Shore Capital and one of Cameron’s earliest financial backers. The Prime Minister was one of his many investments that paid dividends. And then Anthony Bamford, of JCB fame – and another mate of Cameron’s (so much so that he was ennobled three years ago).
But you can tell there has been an oil price crash: it looks like an oligarch-free zone. It looks like they’ve got the cash in up front: a ‘standard’ table for ten will set you back about £5,000 this year. For this you get a junior minister or senior backbencher. For £10,000 you’re on a ‘premier’ table with a middle-ranking minister. Only a £15,000 ‘Premium’ table seems to land you a Cabinet minister – although, looking around at the ministers who have been roped into this, I suspect some guests will be wishing they’d stuck to £5,000. Or maybe stayed at home.