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Thursday, 23 April, 1998, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
The 500 dinner date
The Prime Minister
Dinner guests will be celebrating the first anniversary of Labour's general election victory
A host of Labour "luvvies", including actors, pop stars, comedians, sports personalities and top business people are gathering on Thursday night for a 500-a-head Labour party fund-raising dinner.

The event, at London's Park Lane Hilton, is an early celebration of the first anniversary of Labour's general election victory on 1 May last year. The 300,000 cash Labour hope to raise by the ticket sales will help to pay off its debts and fill the party coffers in time for the next general election campaign.

The guest list

hilton hotel
Celebrities will gather at the Park Lane Hilton Hotel
Roughly 550 tickets have been sold for the seventh annual gala dinner where celebrities will mingle with Cabinet ministers, backbench MPs and Labour officials. The Prime Minister Tony Blair is to make a speech and the event is being hosted by the Home Secretary Jack Straw. But so far the guest list is a tightly guarded secret.

The past year has seen a succession of glitzy celebrity parties hosted by Mr Blair which have helped to popularise the notion of "Cool Britannia". But recently Labour has lost the support of some of its trendy backers who are disappointed with the parties record.

Ben Elton
Ben Elton: told Labour not to be too trendy
Alan McGee, head of Creation Records, who was formerly a firm supporter of Labour, criticised the party's welfare-to-work policies earlier this year. He is said to be "too busy" to attend the dinner.

It is not known if the comedian, writer and long term Labour supporter Ben Elton is going to the dinner as he did last year. Mr Elton recently criticised Labour for trying to appear too "cool" .

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry: went to last year's dinner
Other paying guests in 1997 included writer John Mortimer, disc jockey Simon Mayo, actor Stephen Fry, Drop the Dead Donkey actor Neil Pearson, One Foot in the Grave actor Richard Wilson and former EastEnders stars Michelle Collins and Michael Cashman.

One guest who will not be paying is 14 year-old Ross Atkins from Bristol who wrote a competition winning essay on 'Why I want to meet the Prime Minister'. He plans to thank Mr Blair for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace talks.

Conservative dinner

John Major: also used fundraising dinners
The fundraising dinner has long been a popular tool used by all parties to raise money.

In 1996, the Conservative Prime Minister John Major was criticised when stories about Millennium clubs hit the headlines. These were exclusive fundraising clubs which offered top businessmen the chance to meet senior Conservative cabinet members at lunches and cocktail parties for a joining fee of 2,500. A private dinner with a cabinet member was reported to cost up to 100,000.

In Britain there are currently few regulations governing the amount individuals or companies can donate to party coffers. Mr Blair's dinner comes at the same time as Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life is considering new rules on the way political parties can raise funds.

The $5,000 dinner date

It can cost $5,000 to dine with President Clinton
In America fundraising dinners are much bigger business than in Britain. Supporters routinely shell out $1,000 for an invitation to a drinks party and a chance to meet the President. To sit down and spend an evening with Mr Clinton can cost around $5,000, and to spend the weekend away at an exclusive "donor retreat", where the President will drop in for a visit, could mean stumping up $50,000.

Presidential appeals for donations at private dinners with top Democratic Party fundraisers have drawn flak in the US press. Last year around 50 fundraisers agreed to give $250,000 each after dining on beef and salmon with Mr Clinton and his vice president Al Gore at a Washington hotel. In 1996 there was uproar over Clinton's re-election campaign team's plans to offer big contributors the right to stay overnight at the "Lincoln bedroom" in the White House.

Under US regulations donors can give up to $1,000 to an individual party candidate, but as much as they like to either Republican or Democratic parties.

See also:

21 Apr 98 | Party fundraising
Party fundraising background
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