Following criticism that trustees appointed by the Prime Minister misused their public appointments to help raise money for the Tories and themselves, the Sarawak Report has now established that one of the major annual fundraisers of the party, the June 20 Summer Party, has been moved from its usual place at the Hurlingham Club…. at the Victoria & Albert Museum on Cromwell Road.
The Summer Party can be expected to attract 500-1,000 well-heeled guests who are asked to pay £2,000 each for premium tickets (£1,500 for standard tickets) with tables of ten sold for 20 £000 each (£12,500 for standard tables). Premium tables are located closer to the “star players” of the party at the front.
In addition to these revenues, an auction is held, with prizes often involving opportunities to mingle socially with ministers. Insiders have confirmed the auction can fetch a further £750,000 to £1.5million.
The Conservative fundraising machine’s growing use of the illustrious premises of the Victoria and Albert Museum has already begun to raise eyebrows, not least because a number of trustees appointed by the Prime Minister have close ties to the Tories. .
These include Nicholas Coleridge, publisher of mundane and glossy magazines, who was named chairman of the museum’s board in 2015 and who last month offered to make a guided tour of his favorite museum artifacts as prizes for the separate Curators’ “Spring Luncheon” auction. Coleridge is reportedly about to get a much-anticipated “Sir” to add to his name.
The gesture sparked complaints, in particular because, according to the code of conduct, trustees ‘should be, and be seen to be, politically impartial‘. Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell wrote to the Public Appointments Commissioner observing that “auctioning off an exclusive tour at a political fundraiser doesn’t seem to pass the test of “politically impartial.””.
The museum countered that no areas had been taken away from the public as a result of the curatorial donor tour and that no special access was involved. However, the concerns did not end there. The board also includes ‘concierge’ company boss and Conservative party chairman Ben Elliot, whom Boris Johnson reappointed last year (after a 4-year term since 2016) in further breach of what seems to be the rules governing appointments.
The code of conduct states that trustees “must not hold a paid political position in a party or occupy a particularly sensitive or prominent role in a political party” which Ben Elliot clearly does.
The matter became even more thorny last week when on Thursday it emerged that Elliot himself had used the V&A to organize membership events for his company Quintessentially, which has already been the subject of a series of cash for access controversies given his connections to royalty and the Conservative Party to whom his clients were asked to donate in exchange for introductions.
According to the publication of the charity sector Third sector two Quintessentially events have taken place at the V&A, reserved for members of the so-called Concierge Society who pay thousands of pounds a year for its services. The first was a breakfast in 2018 on the artist Frida Kahlo animated by Elliot and the second was linked to a Christian Dior exhibition at the museum in 2019, also hosted by Elliot.
“No events were advertised to V&A members or the general public on the museum’s website. The V&A did not deny that they were only available to those registered with Elliot’s business” look at the magazine.
Advocates of such events say that several museums and other historic public places in London such as the V&A have set up commercial operations to rent space for such occasions to raise funds. The premises are advertised online with current rates for anyone to hire.
However, others see conservative administrators as exploiting a public position for political and business gain.
There are several advantages to using the museum which has many spacious galleries filled with priceless works of art to provide an elegant backdrop to an event. The location combines character with proximity to where most wealthy Londoners choose to live.
The prices at which the V&A is rented are also well below the commercial rate for equivalent space in central London. Large dining halls such as the Dôme and Galerie Raphael are announced on line at a cost of c£12-14,500 per evening accommodating 400 people. Even with catering costing upwards of £1,500 per table, there are big markups to the prices charged for tickets.
According Third sector V&A accounts indicate Ben Elliot secured much more reasonable rates for his own smaller Quintessentially receptions, with the museum recording payments of £1,000 from Quintessentially in 2018 and 2019, which the charity told the publication represented payment for the events without any discount.
Currently, however, the cheapest venue available openly to hire online is a breakfast gallery costing £2,000 and seating just 40 people. The museum advertises that exhibits can be hired for exclusive viewing for an additional £1,500-2,000.
Shadow Labor Minister for Arts and Civil Society MP Barbara Keeley says the V&A risks being “discredited” on Quintessentially’s use of the gallery on the grounds that the directors’ personal business interests should be kept separate from the work of the charity.
“Charities do not exist for trustees to advance their political or business interests. Ben Elliot’s use of the V&A for private company events raises further questions about conflicts of interest and follows a long-standing trend by the Conservative Party and government to break the rules. she told Third Sector.
Sarawak Report asked for confirmation that as administrator of the museum, the party chairman was not involved in soliciting locals for this event.
The Victoria & Albert Museum said that “all prices charged for events held at the V&A are in line with those publicly advertised online. In the case of the Conservative Party’s summer event, our corporate events team was approached directly by a representative of the Conservative Party to discuss renting a venue on a commercial basis. None of our directors were involved in this process.