Calls for inquiry into Cameron 'cash for access' claims
David Cameron’s revelation that he hosted private Downing Street meals for Tory donors has sparked calls for an independent inquiry into “cash for access” claims and urgent party funding reform.
The UK Prime Minister gave in to intense pressure to expose the meetings with wealthy benefactors after a co-treasurer of the party was caught promising meetings and influence in return for cash.
Labour dismissed an internal probe into Peter Cruddas – who has resigned – as a “whitewash” and said the issue should be investigated by the official adviser on ministerial interests.
As opinion polls suggested the Conservatives were losing support over the issue, senior party figures tried to turn attention instead to the wider question of political funding.
Cross-party talks are expected to be reopened this week in a fresh bid to end the deadlock which has stymied attempts to reduce the influence of big donors for many years.
Mr Cruddas was caught on film telling undercover reporters that “premier league” gifts could secure meetings with ministers and influence policy.
He quit his post on Saturday, hours after the Sunday Times revealed his comments.
After initially trying to brush off the controversy, the Tories released the names yesterday of donors – and their partners – who had been invited to the meals.
There were 12 who had attended four dinners at Downing Street and five invited to informal lunches at official country residence Chequers since Mr Cameron’s election in 2010.
Labour said the super-rich business figures had donated more than £23m (€27.5m) since 2005.
Mr Cameron denied Mr Cruddas’s claims that big donors’ concerns were fed into a policy committee and insisted that none of those who dined with him had been recommended by the former treasurer.
“None of these dinners were fundraising dinners and none of these dinners were paid for by the taxpayer. I have known most of those attending for many years,” said the PM.
He announced that eminent lawyer and Tory peer Lord Gold would conduct a party inquiry into the affair, and he said the party would in future release quarterly registers of significant donors invited to eat with him at official residences, as well as lists of those attending “Leader’s Group” dinners for donors who give more than £50,000 (€60,000).
Labour leader Ed Miliband dismissed the Gold inquiry as “a whitewash” and called for an independent probe by the PM’s official adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan.
“This scandal speaks to the conduct and character of this Prime Minister and his Government,” said Mr Miliband.
“Anything short of an independent inquiry will leave a permanent stain on the reputation of this Government and this Prime Minister.”
Addressing Labour MPs on what he told them was a “significant” political week, he said: “It shows the battle in politics is who is for the few and who is for the many.”
He will have been further buoyed by an opinion poll which showed the opposition racing into a double-digit lead amid the fallout from the controversy and last week’s unpopular Budget.
Two-thirds of voters agreed that tax changes announced by Chancellor George Osborne last week show his was “the party of the rich”, according to the ComRes research for The Independent.
The poll puts Labour up three points over the last month on 43%, with the Tories down four at 33% and the Liberal Democrats down two on 11%. Others gained three points to 13%.
But among the third of voters who were polled after the Cruddas story emerged, the lead had widened to 17%. Other polls also showed a growing Labour lead.
All three main parties have named two members to handle negotiations over party funding, which the minister in charge – Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – said he hoped would start this week.
Mr Cameron said there was an “urgent need” for wider reform and said he would back a £50,000 cap on individual donations – but only if Labour agreed to apply it trade unions.
That is the stalemate which has seen a succession of attempted shake-ups fail but options are also limited as parties are agreed there is presently no appetite for increased state funding.