Tuesday 27 March 2012

Dinners and donors

The rapid and inevitable resignation of the Conservatives’ co-treasurer as a result of the Sunday Times’ exposé was presumably designed to draw a line and move on.  I doubt that it will work though.  With a senior party official having told the media, albeit whilst thinking he was talking to potential donors, about private dinners with Cameron at Number 10, I don’t see how Cameron will escape the suspicion of dubious dealings unless and until he publishes the full list of those who have been his guests, rather than showing an initial reluctance, and then releasing a list of the guests who've given substantial sums when he came under pressure.
I can see why he might think that to be a private matter, particularly since it is likely to name genuinely private guests who’ve never donated a penny to his party, but it’s going to be difficult for him to escape that.  The idea that people donating £250,000 may have bought themselves an invitation to Number 10 may indeed be simply ‘bluster’ by a man trying to extract large donations (although that, in itself raises some interesting questions about obtaining money under false pretences), but it will not be proved to be such without more openness and honesty from Cameron.

And if he really wanted to get ahead of the game rather than display the bunker mentality which seems endemic to politicians in power, then he'd already be preparing to release lists of guests of private dinners given by other senior cabinet ministers as well.  The press will inevitably move on to ask what the chancellor's been up to once they've finished with the PM.  Better by far to be pro-active.  Who knows, he might even strike lucky - full disclosure might throw up some interesting guests of Lib Dem ministers, and turn a bit of the heat in another direction.
I was also interested in another aspect of the story which doesn’t seem to have received so much attention as the headline.  According to the Sunday Times story, both Cruddas and the lobbyist who acted as a go-between were well aware that accepting a donation from a foreign source was illegal, but were happy to both condone and facilitate such a donation.
Whilst the suggestion of setting up a UK subsidiary as a channel for money is not illegal – that is, after all, the route by which most of Ashcroft’s money reaches Tory coffers – the idea that the money could be passed by a company to individuals and then apparently donated by them is most certainly illegal.  Yet, if the story is to be believed, not only did both the co-treasurer and the lobbyist agree that this was an option, the lobbyist actually claimed to have discussed it with one of the party’s compliance officers, and reported that he had agreed it.  She even reported that the party would accept this because it did not ‘pry’.
It’s possible, of course, that this is just more ‘bluster’, but it at least hints at an institutionalised willingness to flout electoral law by turning a blind eye and not asking too many questions.  David Cameron may well be proud of his achievement in turning his party’s finances around, from a £20 million debt to being virtually debt-free.  But the questions as to how that has been achieved aren’t lust going to go away.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

On balance I am for donations to fund political parties. State funding has a ring of "too respectable to fail"