This article by Duncan Milligan originally appeared on UniteLive.
Wealthy-backed Tory in bizarre attack on clothes bank helpers
The £64,000 question – why did a Tory MP with rich business backers attack Unite members helping the poor?
Unite Community members who set up a socialist clothes bank in Durham for those too poor to afford charity shop clothes, have been criticised by a Tory MP for being motivated by “party politics”.
Unite members hit back saying he should be more concerned about why such a service was needed rather than attacking those trying to support the poor.
James Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South has registered £64,000 in political donations and sponsorships in the last 12 months all from big business backers. Mr Wharton has a track record of wanting to cut welfare spending and to stop increasing benefits in line with inflation.
“This is as much about making statements about politics as it is about doing good things. I welcome one; I’m not convinced about the other.”
Angela Appleby, a Unite Community member who works with the project said the MP’s intervention was “totally unexpected, he is from a constituency many miles away and there is no reason why he should have said anything.
“One of our members, Dawn Wilson, had the idea when she heard one woman say she could only afford one pair of shoes and had to decide which of her kids got the new ones. We took clothes as donations and operate the clothes bank alongside a local food bank.
“People on welfare benefits can use the local food bank and then use the local clothing bank to get a bag of clothes.
“James Wharton’s comments are shameful, he has no idea of what is happening in an area outside of his constituency and the desperate need that people are in.”
Joe Rollin, Unite Community Coordinator for the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside said, “To seek to undermine the huge voluntary effort put in by our members getting the clothes bank up and running in order to score cheap political points is unacceptable.
“The fact that he was 100 per cent wrong in his analysis is almost beside the point – the only person playing party politics here is Mr Wharton himself.
“Those organising the clothes bank have had to seek donations of clothes and help from ordinary people. They have not had access to the sort of donations flooding in to keep Wharton safe in his parliamentary seat.”
And strong criticism came from local MP, Labour’s Grahame Morris. “James Wharton is oblivious to the hardship and suffering of everyday people caused by his government’s policies of austerity,” he said.
“At every opportunity, he has voted in support of cuts to social security; raised taxes which hit the poorest hardest such as VAT; introduced cruel and callous policies like the bedroom tax impacting thousands of disabled families and allowed a system of sanctions to embed in the culture of DWP which has resulted in thousands of people, already in hardship, losing their benefits for minor infringements.
“Instead of attacking volunteers and charity workers trying to help the most vulnerable in society, he should look at his own government’s actions which has led to the need for and the rise in the number of food and clothes banks.
“I think before criticising, this privileged Tory MP should visit the clothes bank and see first-hand the difficult circumstances many people are facing in our communities,” added Mr Morris.
Mr Wharton, educated at the £26,000 a year St Peter’s school in York was a corporate lawyer before entering parliament in 2010. Between October 2013 and October 2014 he has registered £64,000 of political donations from wealthy Tory business backers.
This includes £25,000 from Peter Cruddas who made a multi-million pound fortune in banking.
It also includes donations worth £15,000 from colourful Russian businessman Alexander Termerko whose engineering company is based in the north east.
Mr Termerko has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative party. The Russian government failed in its attempts to extradite him on fraud and other charges, the British judge saying the Russian prosecution was politically motivated.
The now UK-based Termerko spent £90k on a bronze bust of Cameron at a fundraising dinner and is in the “leaders’ group” – membership of which includes dining rights with the PM.
Mr Wharton has also registered £14,000 of donations from United and Cecil which is a private dining club for largely anonymous Tory donors and operates out of a converted barn in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
United and Cecil target donations at Tory MPs in marginal seats such as Stockton South, where Wharton is clinging to a slim 343 majority.
Wharton’s campaign has recently been boosted by a £10,000 donation from JCB research run by Lord Bamford. Bamford is one of the Tory Party’s main financial backers and indicates the seat is a key marginal.
UNITElive contacted Mr Wharton by email to ask if he had anything to add to his earlier comments. There was no reply at the time of publication.