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Exposed: David Cameron's business backers

By Anna Doble

Updated on 21 April 2010

Party donations, lunch with Joan Collins or a place at the top table of British business? Who Knows Who looks at the company bosses backing Tory plans to scrap Labour's national insurance rise.

David Cameron wants to win over the UK's business leaders. (Credit: Getty)

As David Cameron woos UK business leaders with a promise to scrap the government's planned national insurance rise, his mantra has been "Labour is on the wrong side of working people and British business".

The Tory leader and shadow chancellor George Osborne have courted a long list of entrepreneurs, from EasyJet's Sir Stelios to the man who runs Blackpool's pleasure beach (fortuitously named David Cam).

Many of these executives made their millions during the New Labour dotcom boom years of the early 2000s and some even sit on Gordon Brown's Business Council of Britain.

Three feature on the list of top donors to the Tories for 2009 and two of these are reportedly in line for a working peerage. Below we take a closer look at ten of the pro-Tory heavyweights.

Who Knows Who election guest editor Rory Bremner writes -

The smart trick was dubbing it a tax on jobs thus transforming what might otherwise have been a selfish attempt to protect hefty bonuses, to a noble fight on behalf of the common man.

Meanwhile the efficiency savings that David Cameron has argued for are cannily presented as good, despite the fact they, too, result in job cuts. The clue is the word efficiency which sounds good, whereas redundancy doesn't.

It all comes down to semantics. Sackings needn't be job cuts merely staff re-alignment. Getting rid of public sector workers becomes tough choices, the truth being it is far harder for the person who is fired and has no choice, than for the person choosing who to dismiss, who does.

Tough is another misused word. Tough choices need tough people who are applauded for their tough decision making, compassionate caring souls ridiculed for not living in the real world, the implication being the real world is heartless.

Branding a one per cent rise in NI as a job tax niftily turned a complex issue into a simple one. But why stop there? More on booze or fags can become a tax on liberty. Airport tax a tax on holidays.

The fact that dozens of rich men got together and signed a letter in the assumption it would win the day seems poorly timed given the whole point of an election, where each of the electorate has an equal say, and 100 or even a thousand voices barely count.

If they wish to make their point in a democratic fashion, the fairest way would be for our business leaders to wait for thirty thousand to sign up to their cause (a reasonable winning margin for one seat) at which point they're given all the respect and kudos reserved for similar "one seat" victor George Galloway.

Better still Labour could call the NI rise a "fat cat" tax, and kill things off for good, but the reluctance might have something to do with Labour's own lovefest with the rich, and a reluctance to label their former best friends a bunch of freeloading, non dom, tax exiles.

Rory Bremner's Daily Election Show will be on Channel 4 on three nights leading up to 6 May.

Sir Anthony Bamford, JCB
For a man whose fortunes are built on digging holes, Sir Anthony spends much of his time in elevated social circles. He is believed to be on first name terms with Prince Charles (who has used Sir Anthony's helicopter), David Cameron and Tony Blair.

A flamboyant character, he makes no secret of his Tory allegiance. In 2009, the Conservatives received £400,000 from his firm according to the Electoral Commission. It is estimated JCB has given the Tories more than £1m in recent years.

Sir Anthony and his wife, Lady Carole Bamford, have been described as "one of England's most politically and socially influential couples". Racehorse owner Lady Carole also runs an organic food firm and lunches with actress Joan Collins.

Sir Christopher Gent, gsk
Sir Christopher is non-executive chairman of GlaxoSmithKline plc and a former Vodafone chief.

His pledge to back the Tories returns the businessman to his political roots - he was chair of Young Conservatives between 1977-79.

He is also a member of the Tax Reform Commission established by George Osborne.

(Lord Harris of Peckham, the Carpetright boss who backs the Tories. (Credit: Reuters)

Paul Walsh, Diageo
From Red Stripe to Bell's, Diageo is a true giant of the drinks industry, responsible for hundreds of brands. The UK-based global giant was formed in 1997, the year of Labour's landslide election victory.

Chief executive Paul Walsh has a cocktail of loyalties. While he backs the Tories' opposition to the national insurance rise, he sits on Gordon Brown's Business Council of Britain, set up in June 2007. He is also chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association and owns a herd of alpacas, two of which he named Guinness and Smirnoff.

Lord Harris of Peckham, Carpetright
Chairman and chief executive of Carpetright, Philip Harris is a close friend of David Cameron's and a big money donor to the Tories. In 2009, the Electoral Commission revealed he gave the party £250,000.

At the last count he was ranked 406 on the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £130m.

He has also invested extensively in education with several schools and colleges now bearing his name.

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, EasyJet
Easyjet's Greek-Cypriot owner Sir Stelios set up the firm at the tender age of 28 and watched the budget airline business soar. At 39, under Blair's government, he was granted a knighthood for his services to business and enterprise.

Last year he was named the 81st wealthiest person in the UK, with a fortune of £544m despite the recession.

He sits on the New Enterprise Council set up by the Tories. He lives in Monaco for tax purposes but opposes Labour's NI rise plan.

Simon Wolfson, Next
Another former Tory donor, the chief of clothes chain Next, Simon Wolfson, is reportedly in line for a working peerage.

At 33 he was the youngest chief executive of a FTSE 100 company and he appeared on a list of the UK's most influential members of "the Right".

Sir Stuart Rose, Marks & Spencer
The high-profile M & S boss won a knighthood in 2008 for his services to the retail industry and earns a salary of more than a million pounds a year.

Sir Stuart is a former Argos boss and one of George Osborne's key supporters in the row over NI rises. His first job was in admin at the BBC.

Samantha Cameron made waves at the 2009 Tory conference when she wore a black and white polka dot M & S dress she had asked Sir Stuart to "hunt down" for her.

Brent Hoberman, Lastminute.com
The company set up by Hoberman and co-founder Martha Lane Fox became an icon of the noughties dotcom boom.

Like David Cameron he went to Eton College followed by Oxford. Hoberman sits on Brown's Business Council of Britain, but backs the Tories on national insurance.

Surinder Arora, Arora International Hotels
Arora is one of the UK's richest Asian businessmen with an estimated wealth of £140m.

Like Sir Stelios he sits on the New Enterprise Council formed in 2008 to advise the Tories.

He also has a link to the Bamfords and the Blairs, via Sir Cliff Richard. All have enjoyed holidaying with the singer in Barbados.

Luke Johnson, Risk Capital Partners
Best known for buying and selling the Pizza Express chain in the 1990s, Luke Johnson was chairman of Channel 4 between 2004 and 2010 and he is founder of Risk Capital Partners.

He is also chairman of the Royal Society of Arts. He interviewed Richard Branson for Oxford's student newspaper which George Osborne edited a few years later.

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