Julie Kirkbride is just one link between money, the MIC and the Tories
Julie Kirkbride, a leading Midlands Conservative MP, admits to previously undisclosed links with a controversial organisation which has donated millions of pounds to the Conservative party.
The Bromsgrove MP has been revealed as an "ex-officio" member of the secretive Midlands Industrial Council (MIC) after an investigation by the Politics Show in the West Midlands.
There is no published record of Ms Kirkbride's connections to the organisation, even though she has now confirmed she is the "link person" between the MIC and the Conservative party in parliament.
She also confirmed that other MPs have attended meetings - she had been a guest speaker at previous events - but she said that she has neither given nor received any money from the MIC, which is why her involvement is not listed.
The reaction to being named, from the former Daily Telegraph journalist, was defiant: "This is a smoke-screen, because Labour have been selling peerages for money," she said.
Ms Kirkbride's name emerged after the MIC said it was going to continue to conceal the identity of its members in future, unless there is a change in the law.
"If you're asking me would we make public announcements when we have a new member then no we wouldn't," said the MIC's secretary, David Wall.
"But if, however, the law were to change whereby we had to publicise our membership, then of course we would do."
Mr Wall made the comments in the first broadcast interview by a member of the group about its funding links with the Conservatives.
Coleshill has financially benifited from MIC donations
The exclusive conversation with the Politics Show in the West Midlands took place at the HQ of Coleshill Campaigning Services, a call centre operation based at Coleshill Manor in Warwickshire.
The Coleshill operation targets voters in key marginal constituencies on behalf of the Tories and has received £1.1m from the MIC in the last two years.
The Manor is owned by MIC member Robert Edmiston.
But even though this web of business links leads back to the Conservatives at every turn, Mr Wall denies that the MIC has an overt influence in candidate selection for the party.
"Although the MIC has a very strong interest in politics we do not get involved or seek to influence politics in that way," he said.
"We've been accused of trying to buy candidates - nothing could be further from the truth," he insisted.
David Wall, Secretary, Midlands Industrial Council
So what do they want exactly?
"We like to have to have the voice of business heard so that MPs and candidates have a full appreciation of what impact their decisions have on the business community," said Mr Wall.
So who are the MIC exactly and why are they considered controversial?
Well, the Midlands Industrial Council has been at the centre of a storm of controversy in recent weeks.
Formed in 1946, its goal is to lobby the Government on behalf of Midlands business interests.
However, it stands accused of being little more than a front organisation for rich businessmen looking to funnel large amounts of cash into the Conservative Party, without the inconvenience of their names becoming public or having to endure the attached scrutiny.
Sir Anthony Bamford enjoying the limelight in India with David Cameron
In an effort to diffuse the Labour-inspired inquisition into their activities, the MIC published a list of 22 names of so-called "active" members last month.
But the list begs almost as many questions as it answers.
How much did each of them give exactly?
Where did that money go?
And what about the people who have given money in the past - or may do so in the future who will still be able to slip quietly behind the veil of anonymity?
No answers are forthcoming as the law, as it stands, does not require a breakdown of figures from the MIC as it is an unincorporated association - effectively, a private club.
Also, are the political views of this exclusive group of men are shrouded in some mystery?
The MIC has no written constitution, no openly declared statement of aims or manifesto which can be inspected.
But a little probing and Mr Wall confesses there is a Euro-sceptic element to the group and they are not keen on what they call "Brussels bureacracy."
They are also not keen on some of the health and safety laws introduced in recent years. They also want lower taxation and they want the minimum wage set at a level "which the market can afford".
Eight members of the MIC were also signatories to a letter to the Daily Telegraph, from a group called the TaxPayers Alliance, which describes itself as "an independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes".
Five members also supported the "Vote No" campaign against the European Constitution.
Our investigative reporter Nick Lawrence has put together a special report on how the MIC operates and how the introduction of American-style professional political campaigning appears to be at the root of how it likes to spend its money.
On Saturday 11 November 2006, Hazel Blears, Labour Party Chair, is quoted as saying: "How many other names will remain hidden by the Midlands Industrial Council?"
"Cameron must end the culture of secrecy around Tory funding after latest revelations of the mystery millionaires' club..."
Hazel Blears MP, responding to comments by David Wall, the Secretary of the Midlands Industrial Council, that the MIC would not be announcing new members, and the revelation that Julie Kirkbride MP is an ex-officio member of the group.
She said: "This statement from the MIC confirms that they are going to persist in the secrecy that has characterised the shadowy Midlands Industrial Council and its funding of the Conservative Party.
"The secretary of this mystery millionaires' club has said they will only announce new members if required to by law.
"And we have found out for the first time that senior Tory MP Julie Kirkbride is an ex-officio member of the MIC but her name did not appear on the list of its members released two weeks ago.
"Will the Conservatives follow Labour's example and reveal all their financial backers? How many other ex-officio members are there? How many other names remain hidden?
"It is time the Tories ended the culture of secrecy surrounding their funding.
"David Cameron should make clear today that all Tory donors should be registered by the names of the individuals or the companies making the donation, not through a secretive front organisation."
The Politics Show West Midlands, has received this statement from the Conservative Party Press Office on Sunday 12 November 2006...
"Regarding the MIC... we have been quite open on the issue. We have said we strongly support the move towards greater transparency and we warmly welcome the decision by the MIC to publish its list of members. We hope for continued transparency in the future".
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