Equalities and Human Rights Commissioner Failed to Declare Tory fundraising

A commissioner at the U.K. equalities watchdog, which prides itself on impartiality, failed to declare her donation and fundraising activity for the Conservative Party, Newsweek International can reveal.

Pavita Cooper, who is a commissioner at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) made donations totaling £3,500 to the Conservative Party itself, according to the Electoral Commission's website.

It was previously thought that she had made two donations, one to the party and one to the then local member of Parliament Mary Macleod, but the Electoral Commission has since changed its stance after an "admin error" and altered its website.

The EHRC is an independent body responsible for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws in England. When its impartiality has been questioned in the past, it stated that it was an "independent regulator" that took its impartiality "very seriously."

The EHRC is currently investigating the opposition Labour Party for alleged antisemitism but has said that "it would not be proportionate to initiate our own investigation" into the Conservative Party after a number of allegations of Islamophobia from within the party were made.

On November 13, 2013, according to publicly available records on the Electoral Commission's website, Cooper made a donation of £3,500 to the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Electoral Commission says.

Pavita Cooper and her husband, Stephen, held a fundraising dinner for Mary McLeod, at which the guest of honor was the former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne on October 22 2013.

A link to the event on Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives website states that tickets were available for £100 and that it was hosted by Steve and Pavita Cooper.

It was attended by then Chancellor George Osborne.

Upon her appointment by the government, an announcement by the Cabinet Office stated that Ms. Cooper "did not declare any political activity".

Although Ms. Cooper's campaigning and fundraising activities occurred before she became a Commissioner for the EHRC, under the Cabinet Office Code of Governance for Public Appointments, her fundraising and support for the Conservative Party should have been declared.

In the same announcement, the Cabinet Office states: "These appointments are made on merit and political activity played no part in the decision process.

"However, in accordance with the code, there is a requirement for appointees' political activity (if any declared) to be made public.

Pavita Cooper
Pavita Cooper donated to the Conservative Party in 2013 Getty/Newsweek

"Alasdair Henderson's declaration of political activity identifies that he stood for election for the Whig party in the past 5 years. Suzanne Baxter, Pavita Cooper, Helen Mahy and Mark McLane did not declare any political activity."

The EHRC's own governance manual states that "members must register their own or close family members' or associates' relevant non-pecuniary interests."

It says: "These might include membership or active involvement with any, public bodies, political parties, campaigning groups, professional and trade bodies or charities and other voluntary and community sector bodies, which, even if not remunerated, may have a direct bearing on the business of the Commission, or which a fair-minded person might reasonably think could influence a members' judgment."

Ms. Cooper told Newsweek that she only ever made one donation to a Conservative MP, who was a personal friend.

She said: "A personal donation was made to a close friend who was running as a candidate in the election in 2013. I am not, and never have been a member of any political party or made a donation to a party. I will be updating my declaration of interest."

The EHRC meanwhile insisted it remains an impartial body.

It told Newsweek: "A donation was made at an event in 2013 to support a personal friend who was running as an MP. Pavita Cooper has not made a donation to any political party and is not a member of any party.

"We are an independent regulator and take our impartiality very seriously. We have robust procedures and policies in place to manage conflicts of interests or perceived conflicts of interests."

The Electoral Commission's website originally listed Ms Cooper as making a total value of £7,000 in donations, one of which was recorded as being to the Conservative Party.

Pavita Cooper electoral commission
The Electoral Commission's website lists Ms Cooper as making donations of £7,000. Electoral Commission

It has since been amended to record one donation to the Conservative Party on November 13, 2013.

"Due to an admin error, both the party and Mary Macleod reported the same donation," an Electoral Commission spokesperson said.

"The donation was published on our website as a result of a reporting error by then MP Mary Macleod.

"The duplicate was removed from our register so the donation that now appears on our website is correct."

The Electoral Commission had previously twice confirmed incorrectly to Newsweek that there had been two separate donations, even after Ms. Cooper's statement that she had made only one donation was put to them.

George Osborne, the Cabinet Office, Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives and Steve Cooper have all been contacted for comment.

Correction 06/25/20 10:05 EDT: The donation by Ms. Cooper was made on November 13, not on October 22, and we have corrected the date. We apologize for the error.

Correction 07/08/20 13:55 EDT: The second donation recorded by Electoral Commission was removed from its website after discovering an "admin error" following a complaint. This has been corrected in the article.