Donations to UK political parties nearly doubled to £93m in 2023

London: Political parties accepted £93m in donations last year, boosted by new Conservative and Labour mega-donors, with the 2024 election on course to be the highest-spending contest ever.

Figures from the Electoral Commission show the Tories raised £9.8m and Labour £6m in the last quarter of the year.

Labour said 2023 was its biggest ever year for fundraising, and the traditional gap between the two parties in how much they are able to raise from individual donors appears to be narrowing.

The Conservatives received £10m from the healthcare tech entrepreneur Frank Hester and his company, the Phoenix Partnership (Leeds). Hester is a new donor to the party and said he was backing Rishi Sunak because of his approach to AI.

Another big donor was Selva Pankaj, who runs the privately owned Regent College London and other education businesses, who gave £125,000.

Labour’s biggest donor in 2023 was Gary Lubner, the former Autoglass boss, who contributed £4.5m. He first started giving to the party in 2022.

Fran Perrin, a daughter of the peer David Sainsbury, is Labour’s biggest ever female donor. She started giving large sums from 2021 and has now donated more than £2.3m.

The parties are likely to raise record amounts before the election after the Conservatives raised the spending limits for the pre-election period from £19m to £34m.

Louise Edwards, the director of regulation at the Electoral Commission, said: “Over £93m in donations was accepted by political parties during 2023, nearly double the amount in the previous year. With a general election on the horizon, it’s not unusual to see a spike in donations as political parties begin to campaign.

“While there is no limit to what parties can raise, there are spending limits in place ahead of elections to ensure a level playing field.”

In the year leading up to David Cameron’s 2015 election, political parties raised a total of £96m. The figure was £73m in the year running up to Theresa May’s snap contest in 2017 and £117m in the lead-up to Boris Johnson’s victory in 2019.

Among those who donated cash last year was Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, who gave more money to his own constituency Conservative party in the last four months to boost his chances of re-election.

The chancellor donated £18,084 last November, Electoral Commission records show, pushing the total amount he has given since the last general election to £123,345.

This week the Guardian revealed he had given £105,261 to the South West Surrey Conservative Association over the last five years, from the last general election held in December 2019 until June 2023.

The most recent accounts for Hunt’s local association said its balance sheet was “at a less than satisfactory level”. A note stated that members’ annual subscriptions were due to increase this year.

Hunt’s Godalming and Ash seat is a key target for the Liberal Democrats. Polling by Savanta shows the Lib Dems are on course to take the “blue wall” constituency, which would make Hunt the first chancellor in modern times to lose his seat in the Commons.

Over the last week, Hunt has repeatedly said he hopes he will “carry on serving” his voters, and noted: “I hope to be the chancellor after the election.”

When asked whether he had spent £105,000 from February 2021 to June 2023 over fears of losing his seat, Hunt told Sky News on Wednesday: “I put that money in mainly because during the pandemic it was not possible to do fundraising in the normal way.

“I’ve got a brilliant team in my constituency and we do some fantastic local campaigning and I wanted that to continue despite the fact that we couldn’t fundraise. But have I [got] a tough fight against the Lib Dems? Absolutely. And I’ve never taken that for granted.”