The Byron Consort Choir of Harrow School is exacting in its choice of audience. It has sung for popes and for royalty — and the setting for its performance at Blenheim Palace one night last month was grand enough for either. Trumpeters manned the gates and candles led the way to the Long Library where one long table was set for 175. Pol Roger’s Winston Churchill champagne was served and a Churchill descendant, Nicholas Soames MP, was supplied to speak about his grandfather. But guests had paid their £5,000-a-head ticket not for the music, the Churchillian speeches or even the dazzling setting but for an even more exclusive experience: an audience with David and Samantha Cameron.
Never was so much donated by so few. In one night, no less than £500,000 was raised for the Conservative party, smashing all records for a fundraising dinner party. Sam Cameron was minded to pull out when her nanny was taken ill, but she turned up in the end. Though she is anything but a political obsessive, she knows that her appearance at such events has become totemic. There is a new breed of millionaires who will pay astonishing sums to see, hear and touch the hem of the golden couple they believe will soon be in No. 10 Downing Street. With apparently effortless charm, and more or less overnight, the Dave and Sam double act has rescued the Tories’ financial fortunes.
No official figures about the state of the party’s finances have been made public, so the received wisdom is still that the Conservatives are as deeply in debt (and in as much need of state funding) as Labour. The reality, I have discovered, is very different. In a normal non-election financial year some £15 million is routinely raised by the party. Yet last year the figure was no less than £21 million. By the time the Conservatives sell their old Smith Square headquarters, their debt will be down to an eminently manageable £5 million, against some £23 million for Labour.
Everyone involved in Tory fundraising offers the same explanation for the new bonanza. ‘It’s entirely down to David. No modern Tory leader has been so deft with the donors,’ said one fundraiser. ‘He remembers their names, their wives’ names, their business problems, everything.’ Added to this is the indefinable but unmistakable aura of a winner. When asked what difference this makes, my source tilts his head back and rolls his eyes. ‘Night and day,’ he says.
Party fundraisers have lost no time in capitalising on the Cameron Effect. But while the media campaigns are very public, the money-raising is much more discreet and the style is changing, too. Out go the f