Brexit & EconomyPoliticsProfile: Lord Clement-Jones, liberal democrat treasurer

Profile: Lord Clement-Jones, liberal democrat treasurer

As liberal democrat treasurer, Lord Clement-Jones has to ensure the party's funding is squeaky-clean. He talks to our reporter about his life in politics

‘I am a political animal,’ Lord Tim Clement-Jones CBE confides. He is one of
a rare breed who have masterfully turned politicking into an artful ability to
be envied among professional lobbyists.

It comes as no surprise then that Clement-Jones should have been chosen for
the position of party treasurer – a role undoubtedly suited to his skills as a
persuasive communicator.

Although treasurer’s role is traditionally one of fundraising, this has
changed in recent years with the Electoral Commission beginning to look into
party funding more rigorously.

‘We spend tens of thousands in the cost of regulation within the party – and
also have a full-time staff who ensure we conform. We take the view that where
an interest is non-commercial, we would tend not to declare where that
contribution is from,’ he says.

And before the question is asked, he broaches the controversial issue of the
very wealthy Scotsman Michael Brown – the Lib-Dems’ largest donor, who gave more
than £2m to the party but was later extradited to the UK to face charges of
fraud, forgery and obtaining by deception.

Brown became the subject of an Electoral Commission investigation last year
after it emerged he was not registered to vote in the UK – despite bankrolling
the Lib-Dems’ election campaign.

‘We did everything to follow due process. We took all the best advice and
know this is an undecided area,’ Clement-Jones says quite matter-of-factly.

When the issue erupted last year, a party spokesman stressed there was ‘no
connection’ between the charges and Brown’s donations.

The watchdog later found it was ‘permissible’ for the party to have accepted
the cash from the financier’s Swiss-based company, 5th Avenue. ‘We don’t feel
panicked about that now – in fact since the Electoral Commission is still
undecided on the issue in some ways, it is perhaps an opportunity to create a
new law on this,’ Clement-Jones says.

Third in line

The challenge with being only the third-largest political party in the UK, he
acknowledges, is that the bulk of public funding ends up in the coffers of the
other two.

But this is probably where Clement-Jones is at his best. Oddly enough for a
politician, he shies away from boasting of his money-raising skills, preferring
instead to raise the profile of the Lib-Dems’ front bench.

‘We have strong leadership and a strong front-bench team and a lot of people
support us because of our clear image of things in areas of business and the
environment. My job as treasurer mainly rests on identifying those who want to
support the party and are willing to demonstrate this support in a visible way.’

And herein lies the difficulty: ‘Business people don’t always like their
names appearing as donors, but parliament has rightly decided that in order to
avoid abuse, people or the entity should be named. I have the difficult task
then of asking someone to publicly demonstrate their support for the party.’

A cursory glance over his resume is enough to show just how much experience
he has gained in the field as a convincing orator. Clement-Jones is head of law
firm DLA Piper’s public affairs and government relations practice. He was
educated at Haileybury boarding school and then Trinity College Cambridge, where
he studied economics and law.

From 1986 to 1995 he was group company secretary and legal adviser of
Kingfisher. Prior to that he was legal director of Grand Metropolitan Retailing
and head of legal services at London Weekend Television.

Around the same time he joined Kingfisher, he made headway into the then
Liberal Party as chairman, from 1986 to1988 and played a major part in the
party’s merger with the SDP.

He ran Paddy Ashdown’s campaign to become party leader in 1988 and was
director of the 1994 European Parliament elections campaign, vice-chair of the
party’s 1997 general election campaign team, and chair of the London 2000
mayoral and assembly campaign. He is a member of the Liberal Democrats’ national
executive and chaired the finance committee from 1991 to 1998.

It is hard to believe that he can effortlessly blend his day job with the
game of politics. But on most days, he admits, he is to be found at DLA Piper’s
offices in London’s Noble Street, attending the Lords on days of voting and
during party caucus sessions.

‘In order to gain support for the party, you have to have a degree of credits
in the business world,’ he says. ‘Not many politicians spend half their lives in
business, as I do. I’m a politician and a businessman. I suppose the secular job
allows me to pay the grocery bill while also allowing me the freedom to engage
in politics.’

Issues over conflicts of interest are usually minefields for peers like
Clement-Jones, but he insists he knows what the parameters are.

‘As long as I know who pays for my airfare, I’m clean. Most people in their
fifties are used to that kind of balancing,’ he says.

The code governing the peers is rather strict, so any work that Clement-Jones
does regularly for a client, has to be declared.

‘I can’t take part in debates with or talk to ministers in the context of any
clients. I tend to dip in and out of business deals,’ he says, adding that he
has not had anything to declare for the current register of members’ interests.

His only advantage to being a peer and running his business, he says, is that
he understands the political system.

‘Helping clients to be aware of how business needs to conform to new rules
and regulations in a way that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg – especially
since the cost of government regulation has risen,’ is how he puts it.
‘Internationally, the firm works with several accounting practices, and receives
referrals from accountants for clients who need to be advised when investing or
solving problems.’

Clement-Jones’s ‘jack-of-all-trades’ approach has allowed him to speak
authoritatively on business, engage in running the party’s finance function, and
take on the role of health spokesman for over five years. One of his most
successful initiatives came in 2002, when he tabled a private member’s bill to
ban tobacco advertising.

‘I embarrassed the government into doing something. The bill fell before the
2001 election and then came into effect on February 14. It was very pleasing,’
he says with reference to his late wife’s battle with cancer and his subsequent
work in Cancerbackup, a charity that she set up.

Unhealthy reforms

But he became disillusioned with the public health sector and its
never-ending burden of reforms. ‘In 2004, we were raising issues of hospital
deficits. Now the situation has gotten worse. It seems government finances in
health services are spectacularly wrong and this has seriously demoralised a lot
of people.

‘What is true is that the NHS used to be able to hide its debts easily by
borrowing off another hospital. This and other practices are things that no
sensible commercial entity would do,’ he says.

At 57, he suggests that it was probably his involvement in the beleaguered
NHS that inspired him to take on a less-pressing role in sports, arts and

But it hasn’t stopped him asking questions that embarrass ministers – like
his recent questioning of culture secretary Tessa Jowell over the lack of
transparency of the costs of hosting the 2012 Olympics.

‘What triggered it was publicity in the papers speculating about unknown
rising costs, and press criticism of Jowell. It occurred to me that we have
never really seen anything on what this was going to amount to. There were no
definite costings or actual figures about staging costs available. To some
extent it was almost like deliberate obfuscation of the facts.’

He relishes his new role, for it provides him with the opportunity to get
involved in most politicians’ greatest love – debate.

And when he’s not demanding answers, or taking part in debate at the Lords,
Clement-Jones might be given to cheeky predictions, like his latest on the
chancellor: ‘I think he’ll split the Treasury. He’ll want to control it from
Number 10. For the short term he could be PM and will do his absolute best to
control it. He’s probably got the blueprint in his back pocket right now, which
he will only reveal when he’s in power.’

Loan figures

As the row about the disclosure of secret loans to political parties rages
on, the Lib Dems have always been quite public about private donors, like
Michael Brown who lent a record £2.4m to the party in the run up to the last
election in 2005.

The Lib Dems inform the Electoral Commission of the name of lenders and the
amount of interest the party is required to pay each quarter at an interest rate
of 5.5 per cent, but not the size of the loan or the repayment period.

Lord Alliance, the founder of the former international textile group, Coats
plc made a loan in the region of £250,000 to the party and listed in 2004 for a
£2,000 donation. Lord Razzall, who was campaign chief to Charles Kennedy, made a
loan of about £100,000 in 2004.

He has made donations totalling about £6,000 over the past four years.
Another sizeable loan, of about £125,000 in 2004,camefromPaul Marshall, the
founder of a City hedge fund estimated to be worth more than £4bn.He has donated
around £30,000 to the party and ploughed £1minto an independent liberal
think-tank, Centre Forum.

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