Conservative party donor Malcolm Offord's elevation to House of Lords and Scotland Office minister job after rejection by voters suggests money matters more than democracy – Ian Swanson

Millionaire banker Malcolm Offord was a surprise contender last December to replace former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson as the party's candidate for Edinburgh Central at this year's Holyrood elections.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 4:55 am

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He didn't win the nomination but the party leadership was keen to see him elected to Holyrood so he was given a special endorsement when members were asked to rank candidates for the Lothian list.

That didn't work either. But, as if in consolation, the 57-year-old businessman has now been given a seat in the House of Lords, where he was formally introduced last week, and made a UK government minister – albeit unpaid.

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But the peerage has been engulfed by controversy ever since it was announced.

The Tories insist his elevation to become Lord Offord of Garvel has nothing to do with the donations totalling nearly £150,000 he has given to the party since 2007.

However, it's not a good look for a party which needs to bolster its appeal to working-class voters in the north of England if it is seen as a bastion of privilege and cronyism.

Ruth Davidson got plenty of brickbats when she was given her seat in the Lords after deciding to stand down as an MSP, but at least she had served as an elected politician and was recognised as talented and popular.

Malcolm Offord is now a minister in the Scotland Office after being made a member of the House of Lords

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Tory donor Malcolm Offord takes his seat in House of Lords

Lord Offord may well have talents too and, as the party insists, bring a wealth of business experience to his new role.

But he is new to frontline politics and his efforts to get elected failed to convince party activists, never mind the voters.

Well-established City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat had been hotly tipped to become the Edinburgh Central candidate, but members instead opted for Corstorphine/Murrayfield councillor Scott Douglas with Malcolm Offord runner-up.

Mr Offord had another try via the Lothian list, where party members across the region get to rank the candidates, with only the top three really likely to get elected as MSPs. This year, for the first time, the party leadership endorsed certain candidates as having special merit in an effort to guide the members' voting.

Malcolm Offord received such an endorsement, along with Pentland Hills councillor Sue Webber, former Midlothian candidate Rebecca Fraser and sitting MSPs Miles Briggs and Jeremy Balfour – although pointedly not their colleague Gordon Lindhurst.

The five endorsed candidates took the top five places, but sadly for Malcolm Offord he got the fifth slot and only the top three – Mr Briggs, Ms Webber and Mr Balfour – got in.

His appointment as a second junior minister under Scottish Secretary Alister Jack is also controversial, seen as a snub to the Scottish Tory MPs who were passed over for the job – indeed a second snub, since they had already been passed over when Milton Keynes MP Iain Stewart was appointed as the other junior minister.

Most voters probably don’t pay too much attention to peerages or ministerial appointments.

But for anyone who notices, Lord Offord’s arrival in the Lords and at the Scotland Office, whatever his own merits, is likely to reinforce the impression that power, privilege and money count for more than the will of the electorate.

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