Tory marginals funded by secretive dining club

By staff

Funding targeting key marginal seats is being provided by one of the Conservatives' shadiest sources of cash, as the debate about party funding continues.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has established that the United and Cecil Club, a mysterious private club based in either Berkshire or Buckinghamshire, has donated nearly £285,000 to local Conservative associations since the 2010 general election.

Tim Lord, who owns the stables where the club is registered, said: "We are a club, we have our objective and we comply with the law."

Critics say the club is being used as a means of allowing business figures to fund the Tories without publicly revealing they do so.

"Increasingly, secretive groups, which don’t have to declare where all their cash comes from, are channelling cash to key seats," shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Ashworth said.

"Meanwhile CCHQ receives funding from a small group of donors – the same millionaires who the Tories have given a tax cut to. If the prime minister is really committed to openness he'd give us full transparency on where his party gets its millions from.”

Analysis from the Bureau found that in the 20 most marginal seats in the election the Conservatives have raised £321,182, compared to £183,052 for the Liberal Democrats and just £74,545 for Labour.

It follows the Bureau's revelations last week of the seating plan for the Conservatives' 2013 summer ball, which saw tickets priced at £12,000.

It revealed shale gas investor Howard Shore hosted the prime minister's table, while transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin was sat with shipping magnates.