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‘For the good of my constituents’: Ynys Môn MP defends donation from ‘top end’ London property agency

21 Mar 2021 5 minutes Read
Ynys Môn MP Virginia Crosbie. Picture by Roger Harris (CC BY 3.0).

Ynys Môn MP Virginia Crosbie has defended taking a donation from a “top end” London property agency owned by the chair of a Conservative party cash-for-access donor club.

Crosbie, who has portrayed herself as a ‘blue collar’ Conservative, accepted £2,000 from Charles McDowell Properties of Knightsbridge on March 1, updates to the register of MPs’ interests reveals.

It comes shortly after Nation.Cymru reported she had received major donations from one of Britain’s richest families and London’s elite Carlton Club.

In response to a request for comment, Virginia Crosbie told Nation.Cymru that she made “no apology” for accepting the money and said it was used “for the good of my constituents here on Ynys Môn”.

She said the money had been spent on a leaflet to her constituency about her work, and that an earlier donation had been spent on a leaflet about mental health.

The latest donation is from Charles McDowell Properties who offer a “discreet property sourcing” service for London’s richest house hunters, including Russian oligarchs, and the prices of properties on its website range from £4.8 million for a flat to £25 million for a four bedroom house that comes with a separate “staff apartment”.

It also “works extensively with private banks in the UK, Switzerland and New York, assisting their clients with both residential and investment requirements,” according to the company’s website.

The agency’s owner, Charles McDowell, is described as “London’s leading agent for prime central London properties at the top end of the market in Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Notting Hill and Holland Park.”

Crosbie was chair of Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives before being elected in 2019.

Cash-for-access

Charles McDowell Properties has never previously made a donation to a politician or a party. But its owner did give £8,500 to Conservative HQ before the general election in 2017 and £2,000 to the Conservative association in the Grantham and Stamford constituency ahead of the 2019 election.

Discussing the outcome of the 2015 general election, Charles McDowell said: “If Ed Miliband had got in, the market would probably have ground to a halt. I’d be living in Palm Beach right now.”

Charles McDowell has recently become more directly involved in the Conservative party, serving as chairman of the Conservative’s Front Bench Club since last July.

Before details were deleted when Boris Johnson became leader, the Conservative party website stated that the Front Bench Club gives those willing to donate £5,000 to the Conservative party the “opportunity to meet and debate with MPs at a series of political lunches and receptions.”

It is part of a network of cash-for-access Conservative donor clubs, the most exclusive of which is the Leaders’ Group. Membership is reserved to those who donate at least £50,000 a year and offers the opportunity to have dinner with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of his Cabinet.

‘Blue collar’

The £2,000 donation to Crosbie might be small change for Charles McDowell, who has said a rental budget of £2,540-a-week “gets you very little in the centre of town these days”.

But it is almost the same amount earned by the average Welsh worker in a month (£2,148). For those earning the average hourly wage on Ynys Môn (£12,69), it would take 157 hours to earn the amount donated.

The donation sits uneasily with the image of a ‘blue collar’ Conservative that Crosbie has sought to build.

“My grandfather was a miner in Wales for 47 years, and my mother worked in a jam factory,” she told MPs in her maiden speech.

“I am the first person in my family to have stayed on at school beyond the age of 16… I want to be a voice in this place for those who have no voice.”

Nation.Cymru has already revealed how she received £7,500 from the Cayzer Trust, a company which manages the wealth of Britain’s 172nd richest family, in November, as well as £4,500 in January from the political committee of the Carlton Club, where membership costs £1,542-a-year.

Crosbie is also one of seven new Welsh Conservative MPs to have registered donations worth over £30,000 from so-called ‘dark money’ groups. The groups meant that supporters who want to give cash to political parties can remain anonymous.

Such funding is legal but Transparency International says “it shows the rules aren’t achieving their aim: providing transparency and probity over the origins of money in politics.”

Response

In response, Virginia Crosbie said that she made “no apology” for accepting the money and said that it was for the good of constituents on her island constituency.

“I do find it quite strange that Nation Cymru describes donations to me and other Conservative MPs as ‘dark money’. It really can’t be that dark when it’s immediately posted on my Members’ Register of Interests. It might be more accurate to describe it as ‘immediately declared money’.

“This £2000 has been used by me to send a leaflet to my constituency detailing all the work I’m doing to bring jobs and investment to Ynys Môn, including my vital role in the government recently announcing a £4.8 million investment in a hydrogen hub facility at Holyhead.

“The donation I received from the Carlton Club was used to print a leaflet about mental health that went to every house on the island.

“This led to 100 people volunteering to become mental health first aiders on Anglesey – an important and potentially life-saving resource for our communities in these challenging times.

“I make no apology for taking donations from London-based organisations and using them for the good of my constituents here on Ynys Môn.”

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