A MILLIONAIRE Sunderland businessman has said he will not give money to the Tories again because of David Cameron’s “arrogant Old Etonian” style of leadership.
Sir Tom Cowie, who built up Sunderland-based transport giant Arriva, said he was “very, very disappointed” with the Tory leader.
He said he was highly critical of the decision by Mr Cameron to visit Rwanda in Africa while his Oxfordshire constituents were suffering from flooding, and the party row that erupted over support for grammar schools.
The entrepreneur has reportedly donated more than £630,000 to the party since 2001 and gave more than £500,000 towards its 2005 General Election campaign.
In response to a question about the Conservatives’ present state, he told a national newspaper: “Are you sure you don’t want to hear foul language? All I can say is I am very, very disappointed with the state of the party.
“I will not mince my words: I shan’t send them any more money.”
Sir Tom added: “The Tory Party seems to be run now by Old Etonians and they don’t seem to understand how other people live. They seem to be very arrogant like I suppose Old Etonians can be.
“They certainly don’t understand about grammar schools.”
However, the 84-year-old businessman said he will not be switching his allegiance to Labour and will instead donate money to one of the Prince of Wales’s charities, the Prince’s Trust, which helps disadvantaged young people set up their own businesses.
Sir Tom took over his father’s bicycle repair business in 1948 and built it up into transport firm Arriva. He now owns the successful Sunderland-based NEMS warehousing business and is a former chairman of Sunderland Football Club.
He is also a supporter of education, having donated money to the University of Sunderland, which named one of its campuses after him.
Sunderland Conservative Party chairman Peter Wood said Sir Tom was an individual with strong views that he did not hold back in expressing, although he did not entirely agree with them.
Mr Wood, also a Sunderland councillor, said Mr Cameron had changed people’s perceptions of the Tories so they would listen to the party with policy work now well underway.
“The broad strategy that Cameron has adopted is the right approach. I voted for David Cameron and I support him. He is the right leader for the Conservative Party and the right man to lead us to victory at the next election.”
But he criticised the handling of the grammar school row, insisting there had not been any change in policy with the party saying more could be built in areas that already had them – such as Kent – but new academies were the right approach for areas like the North-East.
Mr Wood also said he did not expect Sir Tom would sever his connections with Sunderland and would continue as life president of the party in the city.
A Conservative spokesman said the party was changing under Mr Cameron, attracting many new supporters and donors, and stressed now was the time to reaffirm its strategy even if that left a few people feeling uncomfortable.