Boris Johnson donor John Caudwell warms to bankrolling Labour

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Telecoms billionaire John Caudwell, a former Tory donor, said he would be open to bankrolling the Labour party in future if Sir Keir Starmer is willing to take bold decisions to boost the economy.

The Phones 4U founder gave £500,000 to Boris Johnson’s Conservative party before the 2019 election, after warning that Labour’s hard left leadership at the time was “abhorrent and terrifying”.

But Caudwell said he was “very disappointed” by the Tories and their record on increasing investment in the UK, and was “horrified” by Rishi Sunak’s decision to delay a ban on the sale of petrol cars until 2035.

The next government needs to make “brave decisions” to increase growth, said Caudwell, adding that there are now people in the Labour party who “can do a good job”.

“Any party that can gain power and do what I know we need to do for Britain, then I could become a supporter of that party,” he said, adding that he “will support what I think is right commercially for Britain”. 

His revised view of Labour will be taken as vindication by Starmer, who has spent years trying to win the trust of business leaders, and is leading in the polls ahead of the July 4 election.

“I don’t know that Labour could convince me [to donate] before the [upcoming] election,” Caudwell told the Financial Times. “Maybe they could convince me of it before the next election.”

Speaking at his 15-bedroom Mayfair home, Caudwell said the next prime minister would need to be less short-termist than recent leaders, an approach he believes is harming the UK’s science and technology industries.

“If I had run my business the way the country is run I’d have been bankrupt before I even started,” said Caudwell, who sold the mobile phone retailer Phones 4U in 2006 and whose wealth is estimated at £1.5bn by the Sunday Times Rich List.  

A landslide victory would give Starmer the space to “make brave decisions”, he said. “Given that it’s almost certain that Labour will get in, I just hope he is able to be an operator, and not just a politician.”

He added Starmer seemed sincere in listening to his views and those of other business people. 

“There’s a lot wrong at the moment that needs putting right, right the way through from the health service, law and order,” he said. “But the economy drives it all. Without GDP growth, without high-paying jobs, we sort of deteriorate.” 

He also said a decision by the Conservative government to scrap the non-dom tax regime would be “devastating” for the UK by driving away “wealthy people who are going to bring business with them and innovate technologies and sciences to make Britain strong again”. Labour had pledged to scrap the scheme if elected.

“I now know tens of people who are looking to move, mostly to Monaco,” added Caudwell, who is now a property developer and philanthropist.

He also said Labour’s plan to create Great British Energy, a state-owned power company backed by £8.3bn of public and private capital, was not “anywhere near bold enough”.

“If it were me, I’d be putting hundreds of billions into that,” he said, arguing that investors would fund a more ambitious project if convinced it would pay back dividends in time.

Caudwell, who has spoken previously of a childhood dream in which he was driven through his hometown of Stoke-on-Trent in a Rolls-Royce, handing out £5 notes to poor people, was a vocal Brexit supporter.

But he conceded leaving the EU had so far resulted in “a lot of mostly negative consequences”. 


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