Four questions Conservative party Co-Chair Ben Elliot should answer

Questions remain unanswered about the Advisory Board, privately marketed Covid tests and PR firm Hawthorn.

This week the Labour Party have called for Boris Johnson to sack Ben Elliot as party chair after a string of accusations about his dealings with Tory donors emerged.

Questions were raised about the level of access to politicians that wealthy party donors were given, the extent to which Elliot mixed his political and business interests and the link between him and the PR firm that represents Huawei.

Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour party, said that Johnson had allowed Elliot to “blur the lines between private business activities and his public responsibilities” and called for him to be removed as party co-chair immediately.

But questions remain around the full extent of his dealings. Here are just some of the questions Elliot should answer.

Who are the members of the secretive “Advisory Board”?

This month, The Financial Times reported the existence of a secretive “Advisory Board” organised by Elliot, where Tory donors were allowed access to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

Telecoms millionaire Mohamed Amersi has claimed that he and his partner Nadia were also approached by Elliot for donations to the Conservative party. Since 2017, the businessman has donated £500,000.

Amersi said that this is enough for him to be a member of the Leaders Group, which is invited to have lunch with ministers every month – but not enough to be a member of the Advisory Board, which holds monthly meetings with either Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak.

But the identity of the members of the Advisory Board are unknown.

Labour has called for the Conservatives to publish the names of everyone who attended the meetings, but so far they remain a secret.

A Conservative party spokesperson has said in response to allegations about the “advisory board”: “Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

Could the Advisory Board have influenced policies?

According to one donor, the meetings of the Advisory Board have been used by a few of the members in the group to lobby ministers for favourable policies.

They claim these include public spending cuts and lower taxes. 

But without knowing who these people are, it’s hard to know what policies they could have been in favour of or against.

The lack of transparency over the board makes it impossible to know what’s going on behind closed doors.

Did senior politicians know about the privately marketed Covid tests?

According to The Times, Elliot’s company Quintessentially arranged for wealthy clients to have access to Covid tests at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

In a letter to the Conservative Party Co-Chair, Amanda Milling, Dodds pointed out that this was the same time that tests were not available for people being discharged into care homes.

She wrote: “I am sure you will remember the chaotic state of Covid testing overseen by the disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the first few months of the pandemic.

“On 17 March 2020, hospitals were told to discharge all patients medically fit to leave in order to increase capacity to support those with acute healthcare needs. 

“The government belatedly started testing every patient being discharged into care homes a month later (from 15 April), after 25,000 people had already been discharged. We still do not know how many of those people had Covid-19 and took it with them into care homes.”

In the letter Dodds also asked if Milling or any other senior figure in the Tory party was aware that Mr Elliot’s company was marketing Covid tests to its client base in the middle of a national testing shortage.

What relationship does Elliot have with PR firm Hawthorn?

It further emerged that Hawthorn, a PR firm that Elliot co-founded, lobbied the government on behalf of lending company Amigo and Chinese telecoms company Huawei last year, according to the register of consultant lobbyists.

Elliot resigned as a director after becoming Conservative party co-chairman and although he has a minority stake in the company, the company said he does not get involved in the business.

Labour has called for more transparency about his role in the company, with Dodds requesting that details of meetings between the government and the PR firm to be made public.

A spokesman for Hawthorn said: “Ben has been an investor in Hawthorn since 2013, long before he took up his unpaid position as chairman of the Conservative party. He has never been actively involved in the business. Ben’s shares are in trust and he remains entirely removed from the business.”

The Conservative Party has not responded to LFF’s request for comment. The party has said previously that policy “is in no way influenced by the donations the party receives – they are entirely separate”.

Alexandra Warren is a freelance journalist.

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