EXCL: £15,000-a-table Tory fundraiser in turmoil as donors and activists turn on ‘toxic’ Theresa May
The Conservatives' ritzy annual fundraiser is struggling to sell tickets amid growing concerns over Theresa May’s leadership of the party, PoliticsHome can reveal.
The Black & White party is the Tories' most exclusive fundraising event, bringing in tens of thousands to the party’s coffers.
But party insiders say a growing rift between the Conservatives and their donors has left this year's event at risk.
Tickets for the dinner start at £500 for a standard entry with 'Premier' and 'Premium' tickets going for £1,000 and £1,500 respectively.
A Premium table is being offered for sale at £15,000.
Tory organisers have refused to explain what benefits are given to Premium ticket holders, but previous attendees say the more expensive tickets give access to tables with senior government ministers.
But with less than two weeks until the event, PoliticsHome has learned that tickets and tables at every level are still up for sale.
One Tory source reported that ticket sales have fallen year-on-year since Mrs May took over the leadership of the party with donors left unhappy at a re-brand of the event from a ball to a party.
They added that the re-brand had “good intentions” but “wasn’t what a lot of the deep pocketed types wanted.”
Last year 100 tickets were handed out to select activists at a cut-price rate of £75.
The party maintains that the discounted tickets were meant to allow their just-about-managing supporters to attend, but one source said it was a "sure fire sign they couldn't shift the tickets".
It is believed the party may be forced to repeated the tactic this year in order to ensure all the tables are filled.
One Tory donor told PoliticsHome that a number of the party’s wealthy backers were meanwhile refusing to attend this years event due to a growing frustration at Mrs May's performance in Number 10.
“They are pushing a hard sell on us donors," they said. "Most donors now see the Prime Minister as toxic so prefer the private events, not the event that ends up on the front page of Mail Online."
“The only reason to go is basically to observe the jockeying for position amongst the leadership contenders.”
'WOULDN'T GO IF THEY PAID ME'
Instead, donors are being privately wined and dined with increasing frequency by Tory leadership candidates.
After a dinner with one Tory hopeful, a donor reportedly received a "a handwritten note on House of Commons letterhead."
They added: "That’s never happened before.
“Code for: I’m going to be asking you for money when the leadership election comes.”
Asked if they would be attending this year’s Black&White party they said: “Genuinely, I wouldn’t go if they paid me.”
The secretive fundraiser, details of which are guarded closely by party insiders, is set to be held in early February at the exclusive Battersea Evolution event space in central London.
The Evolution, which describes itself as the “greatest event venue in London”, charges organisers up to £5,400 for internet packages which give attendees the ability to take part in auctions via electronic bidding devices
Last year’s event – held at the Natural History Museum - saw access to Tory ministers put up for auction, with one donor paying £55,000 to spend a working day with Theresa May.
Another reportedly stumped up £12,500 for a home-cooked dinner with Environment Secretary Michael Gove and his journalist wife Sarah Vine.
But this year's event has further alienated grassroots members who feel a growing disconnect from the professional party.
One activist added: “The Tories would like to be seen as the party of aspiration but protect the bigwigs and top donors from the grassroots with a glass ceiling that blocks 95% of people from affording a ticket.
“I earn a decent wage, but I’ll be f**ked if I am paying £500 quid to support this government."
Another member added: “Regular activists don’t even get the chance to attend.
"The obscene ticket prices go directly into CCHQ’s coffers and then local associations have to beg for that money back during elections.
"It was CCHQ that ballsed up the air war in the last election and left us starved for cash on the ground. £500 is a lot of money for the smaller inner London associations.”
The Conservative Party has been approached for comment.