Tory treasurers were "disappointed" with the money raised at their lavish Winter Ball – even as new figures show the party pocketed £37 million in the run up to December's election.
Political parties accepted a combined total of £113,119,000 in 2019 – the largest value ever reported in one year and almost £40 million more than 2017, the year with the previous largest value of donations.
The blockbuster figure was boosted by the Conservative Party attracting almost four times as much cash than the Labour Party, which reported just under £10 million between October and December.
Digger billionaire Lord Bamford, his son Jo and brother Mark donated a total of £3.3 million across 38 donations to the party.
Billionaire Theatre mogul John Gore, investment banker Peter Hargreaves, former Redrow Homes boss Steve Morgan and insurance entrepreneur Peter Wood gave the party £1 million each.
And financier Michael Spencer gave the party £1m split between two donations of £500,000 and a further £50,000 in smaller gifts to local parties via his firm IPGL.
Just hours later the Tories sent a begging email to members asking for cash to help them "match" Labour's resources.
It read: "Today [the party's finance team] sent me an update from the Electoral Commission which confirmed that Labour accepted £8.7 million from trade unions in Q4 2019.
"So now we need to redouble our efforts to raise £500,000 by the time Labour's new leader is in place, or we won't have the resources to match them."
Despite raking in hundreds of thousand of pounds from wealthy backers in an auction at Tuesday's Winter Ball, senior Conservatives were said to be disappointed lots didn't sell for more.
One such lot was a day at the cricket with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which raised £80,000 for party coffers.
"It can't carry on like this," a Tory source said. "A box at a one-day international would set you back 80 grand even if it didn't have the Chancellor in it."
The source said donors were more willing to part with cash under Theresa May's leadership because they were "scared of Jeremy Corbyn ".
Attendees noted PM Boris Johnson left the event "very early".
Meanwhile, it has emerged Lubov Chernukhin, a Russian financier whose husband is a former ally of Vladimir Putin, bought a tennis match with Mr Johnson at the event.
Ms Chernukhin has previously bid hundreds of thousand of pounds to gain private access to prime ministers – including a game of tennis with David Cameron and Mr Johnson in 2014 and a "girls night out" with Theresa May and a host of ministers last year.
Another Tory source said while the table plan for the event had Ms Chernukhin seated with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, she ended up sitting with Mr Johnson "all night".
New figures show she also donated £209,000 to the party in the months leading up to the election.
Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister said: “For years the UK economy has failed to work for the majority of people in this country, instead benefiting an increasingly small few in the City of London.
“These latest donations confirm that the Conservative Party is the Party of this few, and that they cannot be trusted to govern in the interests of the many.
“The time is long overdue for an overhaul of our political finance rules, which fail to protect our democracy from undue influence.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were handed £8 million by former Labour minister Lord Sainsbury – an outspoken opponent of Brexit .
Lord Sainsbury, once the UK's largest political donor and a minister under Tony Blair , said in 2017 that he would no longer be making contributions to parties.
The Brexit Party declared £7,150,000 in donations during the same period.
The bulk of the donations to Nigel Farage’s party came from businessman Christopher Harborne, who handed them £6.5 million across just three months.
The sum takes his total donations to the Brexit Party to £13.5 million.
Investment tycoon Jeremy Hosking gave the party a further £625,000.
Louise Edwards, Director of Regulation at the Electoral Commission, said: “In the final three months of 2019, political parties reported accepting the highest value of donations in one quarter since our records began.
“The value of the donations accepted by parties in the last quarter exceeded the previous high, from 2017, by almost £28 million."
She added: “While there is no limit to the value of donations political parties can accept, spending rules are in place during elections to keep the campaign fair.
“Publishing this data allows voters to see clearly how parties in Great Britain are being funded, enhancing public confidence and trust in our democratic processes.”
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