Michael Abraham Levy, Baron Levy
(born 11 July 1944) is a Labour member of the House of Lords, President of Jewish Care and the Jewish Free School, and formerly the chief fundraiser for the Labour Party and several charities. A long-standing friend of former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Lord Levy was from 1998 to 2007 Tony Blair’s special envoy to the Middle East.
Levy was arrested and questioned in connection with the “Cash for Honours” inquiry by the Metropolitan Police on 12 July 2006, concerning the allegation that monies were paid to political parties in return for peerages. Ultimately however, on 20 July 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that Lord Levy would not be prosecuted because there was insufficient evidence that a crime had been committed.
Born in Stoke Newington, North London, to devout Jewish parents of modest means, Levy was educated at Hackney Downs Grammar School, becoming head boy.
Initially working as an accountant for Barry Class and The Foundations during the 1960s, he made his fortune during the 1970s as an impresario, managing singers such as Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea. He founded Magnet Records, the home of the popular 1980s ska band Bad Manners. Levy sold Magnet Records to Warner Brothers in 1988 for £10m. Guitarist Chris Rea said of Levy, “He is extremely tough, one of the hardest bastards I have ever met, but I would leave my children with him rather than anyone else.” The music producer Pete Waterman described him as “the greatest salesman I have ever met. He would be able to sell sand to the Arabs.”
After Magnet was sold and merged into Eastwest Records in the UK, Levy set up M&G Records with backing from Polygram. M&G Records was so named as it was the initials of Michael and his wife Gilda, and featured acts such as “Sunshine On A Rainy Day” singer Zoe and “Fair blows the wind for France” band Pele. It was folded into the main Polydor Records label in 1997.
After selling Magnet Records, Levy became involved in fundraising for Jewish and Israeli causes. For this he showed a special adeptness, raising, between 1988–1994, £60m for Jewish Care, an amalgam of several Jewish charitable organisations, of which he is now President. Simon Morris, Chief Executive of Jewish Care, said of Levy that, when it comes to fundraising, “there’s no one better in the country.”
Levy first met Tony Blair at a dinner party in 1994, hosted by Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir, the two having a common friend in Eldred Tabachnik, a senior barrister (now a QC and a former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) at 11 King’s Bench Walk, the chambers founded by Derry Irvine where Blair had trained in the early 1980s. They soon became close friends and tennis partners. Levy ran the Labour Leader’s Office Fund to finance Blair’s campaign before the 1997 general election and received substantial contributions from such figures as Alex Bernstein and Robert Gavron, both of whom were ennobled by Blair after he came to power. Levy himself was created a life peer in 1997 as Baron Levy, of Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet. Since making his maiden speech on 3 December 1997, Levy has not spoken in a debate at the House of Lords.
He is a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel and has been described by The Jerusalem Post as “undoubtedly the notional leader of British Jewry”. He is also a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the leadership of UK Jewish community. Levy has close ties with the Israeli Labour Party and maintains a home in Tel Aviv. His son, Daniel Levy, is active in Israeli political life, and has served as an assistant to the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and to Knesset member Yossi Beilin. Levy has praised Blair for his “solid and committed support of the State of Israel”.
Known as “Lord Cashpoint” to some in the media and politics, he was the leading fundraiser for the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007, when he voluntarily decided to step down at the same time as former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In 2000, Levy was heavily criticised when it was revealed that he had paid only £5,000 tax during the financial year 1998-1999 – equivalent to that paid on a salary of £21,000. In an interview at the time, repeated on BBC2’s Newsnight on 16 March 2006, Levy stated that “Over the years I have paid many millions of tax. And, if you average it, each year it comes to many hundreds of thousands of pounds. In that particular year, I was giving my time to the Labour Party and the voluntary sector, and I just lived off capital.”.
From 1998 until 2007, he acted as Prime Minister Blair’s personal envoy to the Middle East. Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to Washington, has said that the Saudi and Jordanian royal families told him Levy was “not terribly welcome in their countries; and that he was received only out of friendship for Tony Blair.” He was also criticised in Sir Christopher’s memoirs for his pretensions and over-playing his expectations (e.g. of meetings with high-level US Administration officials). However, many leaders in the region including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have praised Levy for always offering constructive suggestions. Mr Blair has said Lord Levy carried out “a perfectly excellent job as my envoy under very difficult circumstances”.
In September 2005, Levy was appointed President of the Council of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, the body overseeing the government’s Specialist schools and Academy programmes.
On 12 July 2006, Lord Levy was arrested and released on bail in connection with Scotland Yard’s investigation into the “Cash for Honours” controversy. In March 2006, it was revealed that the Labour Party had raised £14 million in loans from private individuals, some of whom were later nominated for peerages. Unlike political donations, that are governed by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 or PPERA, loans made on a commercial basis do not have to be declared.
Levy stopped his fundraising activities for Labour when Tony Blair left office, something he had always indicated he was likely to do. Since then he has strongly advocated increased state funding of political parties.
On 20 September 2006 he was questioned a second time, and again released on bail.
Levy is President of Jewish Care, the Jewish Free School, Community Service Volunteers and the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade.
In 2008 Levy became Chairman of International Standard Asset Management.
He and his wife Gilda have a son, Daniel, who used to work for former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin, and a daughter.
Levy’s home in Totteridge, North London was burgled in 2003. He and his wife, Gilda were restrained with handcuffs and had bleach poured over them. Levy was hit on the head with a shovel and had his wrist broken; the attackers fled with £80,000 of cash and jewellery.