Iain Dale has had a bit of a go at Stuart Wheeler today, accusing him of being an attention-seeker for reportedly (and let's see the truth of it) threatening to vote UKIP in next June's European elections if the Tories don't beef up their Euroscepticism. A few observations:
- If Mr Wheeler is threatening to support UKIP that's very disappointing but we should never forget Mr Wheeler's generosity to the party in the past. His £5m gift in 2001 was manna for the party at the time. A few people like Mr Wheeler, Lord Ashcroft and John Paul Getty kept the party going in very difficult times. In the long-term it might have been better for the party if it had been then forced to go to small retail donors but that's another question.
- It's wrong to simply dismiss Stuart Wheeler as an attention-seeker. He has ruled out a personal reward for his donations to the party (eg a peerage) unlike most. His beliefs in Euroscepticism - manifested in his recent (unsuccessful) legal action - and opposition to waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques appear to stem from high principle.
- Big donors have been too influential at times - ConHome has worried, in the past, about the influence of Lord Ashcroft and Mr Wheeler - but times are changing. The party's funding base is now a lot more diverse with many more businesses giving to the party. 120 donors are apparently giving £50,000pa. At 52% in the polls David Cameron is not so vulnerable to an unhappy big donor walking away. That's healthy.
- What isn't so healthy is if the huge opinion poll leads discourage the party from the serious policy innovation that Britain's problems need. That's why it would be good to see more traditional Tory donors diverting a good portion of their generosity to conservative movement organisations. Mr Wheeler has a good record of doing just this. Too many big, centre right donors give nearly all their money to the Tory Party. It's vital that more give to groups like the Centre for Social Justice, Ben Rogers' Human Rights group and The Freedom Association. These groups provide the ideas and nurture the talent for the long-term success of the conservative cause.