Since 2001, Lord Anthony Bamford and his family (who run the manufacturing company JCB) have put almost £14 million into the British political system. This included funding the Eurosceptic leadership campaigns of Iain Duncan Smith (2001), David Davis (2005), and Boris Johnson (2019) along with putting £1.3 million behind pro-Brexit groups before the 2016 referendum.
At least 72 sitting Conservative MPs have either received direct donations from Bamford, his family or JCB or have had donations given to local branches of their party when they were running for election. This includes 36 of the 82 Conservative MPs in the Midlands.
Bamford grew up in Staffordshire, and has spent over a million pounds in his native Midlands. A shrewd investor: many of the MPs he backs ended up winning seats from Labour, including several in the famous “red wall” area: Lee Anderson (Ashfield), Mark Fletcher (Bolsover), and Amanda Solloway (Derby North), to name a few.
However, a number of Bamford’s donations were far from tactical, including £5,875 to George Osborne in 2006 and £9,999 to David Cameron’s constituency party in Whitney in 2007.
It soon becomes clear what Bamford was getting in return for his donations: in 2010, he was invited to a dinner at Downing Street for significant donors, along with being recommended for a peerage. Bamford backed out of this offer at the last minute, allegedly due to concerns about his taxes becoming public, delaying his accession to the Lords until 2013.
In the Lords, Bamford has been particularly absent, only showing up to 8 per cent of votes. At the ones he actually attended, his decisions have been far from admirable, voting against amendments to increase parliamentary scrutiny over Brexit and to crack down on modern slavery. He only has four recorded contributions to debates: to support lowering corporation tax on his own business, to publicise his own manufacturing industry and to promote the hydrogen industry (in which he also has interests).
All of this is perfectly legal, but it should make us sceptical of Bamford’s image as a philanthropic industrialist. Instead, his business activity gives us cause for suspicion as to why he was so keen to leave the EU.
Bamford has made no secret of his opposition to the European Union’s regulatory regime. In 2015, he wrote in the Telegraph:
“It also frustrates me, and many others in industry, that the regulatory environment has become less business-friendly, especially for exporters.”
Bamford’s anti-regulatory stance may be linked to the timing of his first political donation, which was to the avowed Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith during his 2001 leadership campaign. This donation came a matter of months after JCB was fined £22m by the European Commission for violating antitrust laws.
It is also clear that Bamford is far from a champion of workers’ rights. While he is known to be generous on occasion, giving staff a £1,000 bonus after a good year in 2018 he also inflicted a £2,600-a-year pay cut on workers in 2008 to save jobs during the financial crisis.
Similarly, Bamford acted far from reputably during the pandemic. Bamford, himself worth £4.7 billion in May 2020, cut 1,000 jobs in early 2020 before hiring 400 additional workers a year later. Why Bamford could not have used his personal wealth, a £600m loan from the government or nearly £160,000 in donations to the Conservatives in 2020 to cover the furlough of these workers is yet to be seen.
Bamford was also nearly involved in his own procurement scandal with plans put in place to supply ventilators to the government despite JCB having no experience in the area. Bamford has also been a vocal critic of lockdowns, appearing on Radio Stoke to voice his concerns on the 20 October 2020, the day after the UK recorded 18,803 new cases.
Bamford has also been at the centre of allegations of dubious accounting. While JCB made £4.1bn in 2018, it only paid £49.9m (1.2 per cent) in tax and only £5.6m of this in the UK. Meanwhile, Bamford himself moved his shares in JCB to Switzerland in early 2020.
Bamford was also named in the 2014 Panama Papers in connection to Casper Limited, a company based in the British Virgin Islands which he closed just months before he was nominated to the Lords. A spokesperson for Lord Bamford has claimed that the company never held any assets, but its existence nonetheless raises questions.
Finally, accusations have been made that Bamford uses JCB Research, a subsidiary of JCB which does not have to file accounts, to pay himself and his wife £130m. JCB Research, owned by a company in the Netherlands, is also responsible for the majority of Bamford’s donations. Most of these accusations were made by Bamford’s brother Mark who alleges that he funnelled £300m into JCB Research from his other companies, claiming that JCB Research was “a conduit for certain members of the Bamford family to extract value from JCB group”.
If there is any truth to these accusations, the Bamfords may well be breathing a sigh of relief to be outside the EU’s jurisdiction, given recent attempts to crack down on tax evasion.
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Lord Bamford is the perfect case of why those who advocated to leave the EU were far from champions of the people against the elites. While Bamford has done nothing illegal to our knowledge, he has consistently acted with disdain towards British taxpayers and workers. His reasons for wanting to leave the EU seem to have been nothing to do with patriotism but instead to rid him and his company of oversight and regulation.
We should watch out what he and his allies in the industrial elite advocate for, now that Britain has cut ties with Europe. Now more than ever, they need to be under public scrutiny.