Sir Lloyd Dorfman: Jeremy Corbyn makes me fear for my country

Multi-millionaire entrepreneur says Labour has driven Jews from a party that has been their natural home for decades


He is a successful entrepreneur worth more than £720 million, but it was his mum who Sir Lloyd Dorfman really wanted to tell when he found out he was to receive a knighthood.

The 65-year old founder of Travelex, the world’s largest currency exchange business, had to keep the news to himself, however, because he could not guarantee his Jewish mother “could keep the secret”.

When I arrive at Sir Lloyd’s London office a fortnight after it was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list that he was to be recognised for services to philanthropy and the arts, he is somewhat coy about his new title.

But Sir Lloyd, who says he has to remain as “apolitical as possible” because of his philanthropic work, is not shy about politics today. He is concerned.

The reason? The Labour Party.



“It is a worrying time to be Jewish in this country,” he tells me as we sit in the comfort of one of his meeting rooms.

“I think it is disgraceful that in this day and age Jews should feel uncomfortable about being Jewish because one of our two major political parties won’t deal convincingly with the whole antisemitism problem,” he says.

Sir Lloyd, who is deputy chairman of the Community Security Trust and a JW3 trustee, cannot understand why Labour has struggled to tackle the issue. “If they wanted to deal with it they would,” he suggests.

He describes Jeremy Corbyn as “Tinkerbell” in comparison to the people around him.

“He is just one part of the issue,” says Sir Lloyd. “There are people in and around his inner circle that pull his strings.”

He says Labour has “tried to dodge” the issue and driven Jews from a party that has been their natural home for decades.

“That historic support feels very uncomfortable today,” he says regretfully.

In the 30 years he has been involved with CST he has “never seen a period where antisemitism has featured so predominantly every day across so much of the media”.

Faced with the prospect of a Labour government, he says: “I fear for my country, I fear for my community, and I fear for business.”

Aged 24, Sir Lloyd decided to leave his job in the City to set up a small foreign exchange bureau with a £25,000 loan from a family friend. He confesses, as though it might be a surprise, that he considers himself “a capitalist”.

“Of course I am,” he says.

And it is for this reason too that he does not trust the Labour Party. “Business is important. Ultimately it is the engine of growth and it is only through growth that you stand a chance of helping the needy. If you don’t achieve growth you end up withering and dying.”

He says any attempt from Labour to convince the public that the party is business-friendly will play out in a similar fashion to attempting to convince the Jewish community that Labour cares about antisemitism.

“They don’t,” he says bluntly.

But his concerns stretch wider than what is happening in Westminster.

“One of the challenges CST has from a fundraising point of view is that the community appears to be a bit apathetic,” he says.

While funding increased in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, the current climate is now different.

“If there aren’t physical threats facing people they seem to be apathetic.”

He says there have been planned terror attacks that

CST has been involved in preventing since 2015.

“The absence of physical threats does not mean there are no problems out there.”

He is also worried by an apparent reluctance among young people to support Jewish organisations.

“That older generation of donors is gradually disappearing and we just hope the spirit that generation showed will be shared and taken on by other generations.”

The community needs to work harder to engage young people or they will lose them to outside causes, Sir Lloyd believes.

“It is not necessarily a bad thing that they are engaged in supporting causes outside of the community. I do that. But it is not one or the other. At the end of the day we are a small community and we have to look after our own.”

Sir Lloyd, who is on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s business advisory board, did not wake up one day deciding to be philanthropic. “It is in our DNA,” he says.

He is proud to be one of five Jewish donors who have helped to fund the first building project at Westminster Abbey for 275 years.

The £24m initiative at the refurbished Weston Tower contains a staircase and a lift, providing external access to the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.

“First of all this is not any old church, this is our national church,” he explains. “One of my fellow Jewish donors said to me, ‘it is really important we do this because I see it as a way of saying thank you to this country, which embraced our community’.”

Sir Lloyd, who after selling Travelex launched The Office Group, a start-up which rents flexible co-working spaces, has been married for 44 years and enjoys evenings out with his wife, Sarah, in the West End, where they live.

Wanting others to share his love of the arts, he set up the Travelex National Theatre sponsorship scheme, whereby the company subsidises up to 66 per cent of the price of seats, enabling them to sell for £15. Since the scheme began, almost 1.7 million Travelex tickets have been sold.

“I acted in school. I have always enjoyed the theatre. To have enabled people to go to the theatre for the first time, or be able to go more often than they are able to afford to, has been an incredible initiative.

“It makes us richer and more fulfilled human beings. It is about entertainment, but it is also thought provoking — it is about developing our souls and ourselves as individuals,” he says.

He also donated £10m towards the National’s £70m redevelopment. In return, the Cottesloe Theatre was renamed the Dorfman Theatre.

The day before our interview, Sir Lloyd enjoyed a dinner party cooked at home by a Peruvian chef, a gift given to him by one of his children.

Perhaps it is his awareness of his privilege that motivates him to support those who are less fortunate.

Through his work with the Prince’s Trust and Prince’s Trust International, as chairman, and his role on the board of Bafta, he is trying to secure experience for young people trying to enter the industry.

“I want to try and make a difference through my philanthropy. One of the reasons I got involved in the Princes Trust was because it helps young people start businesses.

“At the moment I am talking to Bafta to get more young people involved in film and television in whatever capacity. It is a huge opportunity for an organisation like Bafta to help young people who would like to find an opportunity to work in that industry,” he says.

Sir Lloyd did not go to university and is inspired by young people who launch start-ups from their bedrooms rather than follow more traditional routes into academia.

“I admire their bravery and their ambition and I think it is terrific that young people feel they can go and take on the big guys and give it a go,” he says. “It is what I did in my day with the big banks and I think they should be encouraged. People shouldn’t feel inhibited because they didn’t go to university.”

Sir Lloyd is one of the major donors behind the £47m redevelopment of the Jewish Care Princess Alexandra home in Stanmore and says that sooner or later Jewish charities are going to have to come together because too many are operating in the same areas and competing for the same money.

“It has to happen. The prize of the cost saving it would achieve would be huge.”

His philanthropy is also motivated by personal experience. Sir Lloyd made a significant donation to Great Ormond Street Hospital after his eldest grandson was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

“The whole family was in meltdown,” he says, recalling the moment they found out about the diagnosis, three years ago.

“He had an operation and they did a biopsy and it turned out all fine. But you go through that experience and, God-forbid as a parent or grandparent, you need those sorts of facilities, GOSH is there for you.”

The family became involved in helping the hospital raise funds for a new surgery centre for children in need of life-saving operations.

“One thing led to another and we ended up being its significant donor. Today there is the Dorfman Centre which has two theatres, 49 beds and 25 recovery bays.”

When it comes to Brexit, Sir Lloyd, who backed Remain, “feels sorry” for the Prime Minister.

As someone who is no stranger to tough negotiations, he feels Theresa May is in a difficult position.

He says: “She has to carry out the negotiations when there was no plan, and there was no precedent. She is doing it in a great big goldfish bowl where everybody is kibitzing for her to do this, or do that.

“But she gets up every day and she gets stuck in, not knowing who is going to stab who in the back. At least in business you go into negotiation with your own team with you. You don’t have to do it in a public forum. I don’t know how you do that.”

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