Kemi Badenoch gives leadership campaign donor equalities job

The business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, has appointed an equalities commissioner who had previously donated to her leadership campaign, the Guardian can reveal.

Joanne Cash, a former Tory candidate, was made a commissioner to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) board in January. Badenoch announced the appointment, in her capacity as equalities minister, saying Cash had “a track record of promoting women’s rights and freedom of expression”.

Labour said Badenoch should “come clean on why she didn’t declare a political interest in this appointment”.

Badenoch has not broken any rules by making the appointment. Cash, who stood unsuccessfully in the 2010 general election, was not required to declare political interest, although most other commissions do. She will serve as a commissioner for a four-year term.

A spokesperson for the EHRC said: “We have robust procedures in place to manage conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest, including requiring any board members to recuse themselves from discussion where there may be conflicts. These procedures will be applied in this case too.”

According to Electoral Commission records, Cash made a £2,500 donation under her married name, Joanne Black, to Badenoch’s leadership campaign last summer.

The campaign attracted significant party support and backing from high-profile MPs including Michael Gove, although she came fifth in the race to succeed Boris Johnson.

Badenoch became trade secretary under Liz Truss and has retained the role under Rishi Sunak, who has now merged her duties with those of the business department. She is regularly tipped as a future Conservative leader.

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow secretary for women and equalities, said: “Rishi Sunak’s promise of professionalism, integrity and accountability at all levels has been reduced to a grim punchline. Cabinet ministers appointing donors to important bodies only confirms this.

“Kemi Badenoch should come clean on why she didn’t declare a political interest in this appointment. And Rishi Sunak should say how he is planning to deal with the sleaze and cronyism engulfing his government.”

A spokesperson for the government’s Equality Hub said: “Joanne Cash’s extensive range of experience as a human rights barrister, policy advisor and businesswoman are a great asset to the EHRC and their vital work to advance equality in this country.

“Her appointment was made following a full and open competition, which involved a public application process and interviews with an expert panel.”

Cash is a former barrister and was board chair at MindGym, a behaviour science firm where she was listed as Joanne Black by Companies House. She also co-founded the social mobility programme Parent Gym, which she still chairs.

She is married to MindGym co-founder, Octavius Black, a former school friend of David Cameron who was made a CBE in the new year honours.

Cash was seen as a rising Tory star candidate in 2010 but lost to Labour’s Karen Buck. Afterwards, a concession speech in which Cash was deeply critical of the media coverage of her campaign went viral.

“We have to face the question about what their role will be going forward … Are they going to tell the truth or are they going to trash people, lie about their families?” she said, adding that she was putting the press “on notice” and there should be “no more lies.”

After her election loss, she then advised Cameron’s No 10 on the Leveson inquiry as well as libel and privacy changes. She was also a member of the advisory board of Women2Win, a campaign to seek out more female Tory candidates.

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