British media baron Richard Desmond gifted the anti-European Union UK Independence Party £1.5 million (€1.4 million) weeks from one of the tightest elections in decades, his newspaper announced Friday.
The donation was revealed on the front page of The Daily Express, a tabloid with a circulation of around half a million daily, owned by Desmond’s publishing company, Northern and Shell Media Group.
One of Britain’s richest men, Desmond donated £300,000 to UKIP in 2014. The Daily Express has long backed the anti-immigration party in its coverage, and called for Britain to leave the EU.
“Why I’m giving £1.3 million to UKIP” read The Daily Express headline, above a photograph of the newspaper owner with UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
The front page article said that Desmond gave the donation to “shake up the establishment”.
“I firmly believe in UKIP. It’s a party for good, ordinary British people.
It is not run by elitists,” Desmond was quoted as saying.
“I hope that by saying this it will give people the confidence to come out and vote.”
He added that he was fed up with “champagne socialists” and “the floppy-haired Eton club”, referring to the prestigious boarding school attended by Prime Minister David Cameron.
As well as the Express, which has Britain’s fifth-largest circulation, Desmond’s publishing company owns the Daily Star and several popular magazines including OK! and New!
“This money will make a big difference,” Farage told the Express. “We are up against the big battalions; this helps significantly.”
Farage added that he hoped others would now follow Desmond’s example.
In the first week of the official election campaign that began on 30 March, UKIP received £35,500 in donations, according to information from the Britain’s Electoral Commission.
That compares with £1.9 million given to the centre-left Labour party lead by Ed Miliband, including just over £1 million in a single donation from the Unite trade union.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s ruling Conservative party received just over £500,000 in total.
Cameron has vowed to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2017 if he is re-elected, in response to the rise of UKIP and pressure from the eurosceptic wing in his own party.
Forecast to win between one and five seats, UKIP’s support in polls has dropped slightly to about 14% from its peak in autumn 2014. Labour and the Conservative party are currently neck-and-neck on 34% each.
Robin Brant, UKIP campaign correspondent for the BBC, wrote that while the Express readership would already be familiar with UKIP’s anti-EU politics, the announcement came at a key moment three weeks from the 7 May vote.
This is Richard Desmond’s biggest donation to date,” Brant wrote in an analysis. “It comes at a crucial time when the coffers are running low.”
The 7 May UK general election will go a long way towards deciding whether Britain will stay in the European Union, or choose to leave, after forty years of uneasy relations.
A surge in Eurosceptism has firmly pushed the European Union up the political agenda in Britain.
The ruling Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.
The UK Independence Party's (UKIP) position on Europe is probably the clearest. They want the UK to leave the European Union as a first step towards regaining Britain's 'lost' national sovereignty.
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- The Daily Express: EXCLUSIVE: Express Newspapers Chairman Richard Desmond: Why I'm giving £1.3m to Ukip