While the press charges after Grant Shapps, it ignores the more important of the two Tory Chairmen, Andrew Feldman. Lord Feldman of Elstree, as he became in 2010, is David Cameron’s oldest political friend, and as a fund-raiser has shown an exceptional aptitude for filling the party’s war chest.
The two men have been close friends since meeting at Brasenose College, Oxford, where they played in the college tennis team, and helped organise the May Ball. Feldman, who chaired the committee, saved money by using the flowers from the previous night’s Worcester College ball, while Cameron persuaded Dr Feelgood to play as the main band.
Their paths until that point had been somewhat different. Feldman, as he told the Financial Times, “went to public school because my dad worked 70 hours a week”. He attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, at Elstree in Hertfordshire, and sketched his family’s earlier history in his maiden speech in the House of Lords. This is worth quoting at some length, for Feldman hardly ever gives public speeches – in the Lords he votes but except on this occasion, has never spoken – and here he describes the values which inform his work:
“At the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandparents came to this country to flee the pogroms and persecution of eastern Europe. They had nothing bar the few possessions they could carry with them and the values that they carried in their hearts.
“My grandmother, the youngest of eight children, to this day tells of the times they spent in their small flat in the East End, sharing one bedroom and two beds – girls in one and boys in the other – sleeping head to toe.
“What sustained them in those difficult times, and enabled each of them to make their mark on this country, were three values in particular. First, they had a strong work ethic not only to lift themselves out of poverty but also because they understood that a person’s work is central to their sense of who they are and their place among their community. They wanted to be the best that they could be.
“Secondly, they put their family at the centre of their world. It was the main support structure for the nurturing of their children and the care of the elderly. Thirdly, they understood their responsibility to the wider community; namely, those who could not work or take care of themselves either because they were too sick or too old. They took this idea very seriously and as their circumstances improved, successive generations, in particular my parents, have been involved in numerous charitable and social causes.
“On both sides of the family, a common thread – if noble Lords will excuse the pun – was a connection to the clothing business, both in manufacturing and retail… More than 100 years later, I am still in this business, although I have to say that my parents did everything in their power to keep me out of it. I was privately educated and I attended a fine university. I trained and practised as a barrister in the chambers of the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner. As he may well recall, it was only after my father’s sudden and unexpected illness some 15 years ago that I returned to the family firm.”
Feldman took a first in Jurisprudence at Oxford, and was making his way at the commercial bar until 1995, when he joined the family textile firm, Jayroma, as managing director. In 1999, he married Gaby Gourgey: they have three children.
In 2001, Cameron entered the Commons as the Member for Witney. In 2003, he and Feldman went on what Cameron described, in a high-spirited Guardian diary, as a “junket” to Macedonia, all quite properly declared in the register of members’ interests.
Here the two men saw England beat Macedonia at football, and Cameron became something of a Macedonian patriot. As the Guardian later reported, they were guests of Jordan Kamcev, the flamboyant owner of a Macedonian textile firm.
The Tories lost the election held on Thursday 5 May 2005, and the next day Michael Howard announced he would be standing down as leader once new leadership election rules had been put in place: a process which would take a considerable period of time, and would therefore give some younger and more fashionable moderniser the chance to beat David Davis.
On the morning of Monday 9 May 2005, Cameron took a call from Feldman, who asked: “Are you going to run?” Feldman said that if he was thinking of doing so, Lord Harris, the carpet magnate, wanted to meet him.
The meeting took place, and after it, according to Cameron’s biographers, Francis Elliott and James Hanning, “Harris was more convinced than ever that Cameron should run”. Cameron decided he would run, and Feldman began approaching potential supporters who might donate money to the campaign.
Feldman also pointed out to his friend, who was being given contradictory advice by close supporters, that he needed to be comfortable with whatever campaign message was adopted, as he was going to have to repeat it thousands of times. As Feldman later explained: “I felt that if it wasn’t consistent with who he is, with his temperament, he wouldn’t be able to say it with conviction.”
Cameron in turn began his answer to the Jewish Chronicle, when it asked him what he knew about Britain’s Jewish community: “I know quite a lot about the community, I’d say. Andrew Feldman, one of my oldest and best friends, helped run my leadership campaign…” The Cameroon idea of the Big Society is, one might add, entirely compatible with Jewish ideas of social responsibility, as also with those promulgated by Christianity and other religions. Perhaps one of Cameron’s difficulties, in commending it, is that we are no longer a very religious society.
Once Cameron had won the leadership, he brought in Feldman as the party’s chief fundraiser, from 2008 as the party’s Chief Executive, and from 2010 as Co-Chairman.
The partnership of Cameron and Feldman has transformed the party’s financial position for the better. Tim Montgomerie wrote on this site in May 2014 about the reasons for this:
“Central to the success has been Andrew Feldman’s authority in Tory HQ and his relationship with David Cameron. The party’s finances have been undermined in the past by the leader authorising large expenditures without the treasurer’s approval. One source told me that a large donation received in past years wasn’t banked for rainy days but had hardly been credited in the account before being spent. No longer. David Cameron directs all spending ideas to his long-time friend Lord Feldman, the party’s co-chairman. ‘Andrew’s centrality to the party’s financial position explains why his position was never in any doubt when last year he was accused of making the swivel-eyed loon remark,’ said one Tory minister. They continued: ‘If the story of the last decade was told honestly Feldman would be recognised as one of the five most important Tories in the country.’”
The Cameroons cannot speak highly enough of Feldman’s services to party and country. According to one of them, “His father occasionally says to him, ‘Andrew, why do you carry on doing this? They can’t make you a duke any more.’”
But the story of the swivel-eyed loon was an unhappy one. In May 2013 James Kirkup reported in the Daily Telegraph that “a senior figure in the Conservative Party who has strong social connections to the Prime Minister” had said of the turmoil in the parliamentary party about Europe, gay marriage etc:
“There’s really no problem. The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad swivel-eyed loons.”
Feldman was said to be the author of these words. He denied it, but the story played to the idea that the Cameroons were a bunch of out-of-touch metropolitan types who held ordinary Conservatives in contempt.
It is important to grasp that Feldman is a businessman, not a politician. He is a shrewd pragmatist, who has put the party in a strong enough financial position to fight two elections this year should that be necessary.
In his personal dealings, he is – as one not entirely sympathetic observer puts it – “immensely affable, informal, tieless”. In other words, he is a Cameroon, who runs the party machine with greater skill than many of his predecessors, but sometimes distresses traditional Conservatives by failing to see how seriously they take various things which to him seem completely unimportant.
Lord Woolton, the greatest of all Tory Chairmen (1946-55), was a successful businessman who during the Second World War, when he organised the rationing system, developed considerable political skills and became very popular with the party faithful. Feldman has not done that: he is a gifted insider who does not wish to go front of house.
Feldman cannot cure the identification of the party with the rich, and those who wish to dismiss the tradition of hard work and philanthropy from which he springs will continue to condemn the Tories as heartless plutocrats. But he does have an entirely genuine affinity with Cameron, which has helped to magnify his effectiveness. Here are two very able men who are far more comfortable taking practical action to alleviate evident problems, than standing back and contemplating the abstract arguments which might justify whatever they happen to be doing.