Institutionalised amorality in the Tory party
Published in: Daily Mail
Rogue operative? Not a bit of it. Anyone wondering just how the Conservative party could have appointed as its Co-Treasurer a man who offered access to the Prime Minister at private dinners and other privileged contacts in return for party donations of £250,000 will have had their answer from the jaw-dropping interview on this morning’s BBC Radio Today programme with the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude.
They see nothing wrong in it.
Of course the Prime Minister had held dinners in Downing Street for some big donors, said Maude – but these were for his friends, in his private residence.
Excuse me? ‘Private? The official residence of the Prime Minister? Would he at least provide the names or even the numbers of all donors who had been thus entertained at Downing Street, he was asked, so that it could be seen whether these were indeed all merely personal friends? Of course not.
If someone gave £100,000+ to the Tory party, Maude was asked, could they expect to meet David Cameron? Yes they could, was the breezy reply. There was nothing wrong with giving such access to party donors at certain specified events: they had always been completely open about that.
On this, Maude was correct. Buying access to Tory party bigwigs is an established business. As the Times (£) reports:
‘For £50,000 a year, members of the party’s Leader’s Group were invited to “join David Cameron and other senior figures at dinners, post-PMQ [Prime Minister’s Questions] lunches, drinks receptions and important campaign lunches”.
‘The Leader’s Group is the most exclusive of seven Conservative donor clubs. Founded when Mr Cameron was in Opposition, it has continued to offer access to him after he became Prime Minister, a Conservative spokesman confirmed last night — though he said that he did not “have a breakdown” of how many meetings took place between the group’s members and Mr Cameron last year.
‘... “It’s very discreet and nicely done,” Neil Record, chairman of Record Currency Management, said in 2009. “You get 10 people around the table. There will be five minutes from David about what they want to do. And then it’s any questions.”
‘A £25,000 donation earns membership to the “Treasurer’s Group” which offers the chance to meet lesser members of the Tory Cabinet. For £10,000 supporters can join the Renaissance Forum which offers the chance to circulate with “eminent speakers from the world of business”.’
But the fact that it is so brazen doesn’t make it right. Maude says:
‘There’s nothing remotely improper about that’.
Au contraire – there’s nothing remotely proper about it. Buying access to politicians is simply corrupt. The fact that the practice is defended without a blush and indeed institutionalised merely suggests that the Conservative Party is utterly amoral.
According to Maude, however:
‘People will put forward ideas whether they’re donors or not. And do you really want to have politicians who refuse to listen to other people’s ideas...What is being alleged here is that you can buy influence, you can buy policy, and that is simply not the case.’
Such disingenuousness is astounding. Maude sees no difference between, on the one hand, people giving money to a political party in order to bend the ear of government ministers, and on the other the normal flow of ideas from people who have not bought influence.
And bending the PM’s ear isn’t influence? As anonymous sources have been telling reporters, donors to political parties don’t give money for nothing. They expect a quid pro quo. That quid pro quo is access to the Prime Minister and other government bigwigs, which they believe is valuable. Maybe some of them just get a thrill to be invited into the inner sanctum of power. But to dismiss any influence as out of the question stretches credulity to breaking point. Indeed, as one businessman told the Times this morning, the reason such donors give to politicians
‘is to guarantee access where there is no civil servant present.’
In other words, the whole point is to gain access to the PM and other government bigwigs at a private event, so that what is said goes totally unrecorded. But why should such secrecy be considered important if neither the donor nor the politician has anything to hide?
And so what exactly did Peter Cruddas do that was so ‘completely unacceptable’, according to the Prime Minister, other than raise the party’s price?