David Cameron promised to probe allegations that his Conservative Party offered cash-for-access after its co-treasurer was filmed claiming that large donations would secure meetings with the British prime minister.
Peter Cruddas resigned yesterday after the Sunday Times published secretly filmed comments in which he appeared to offer access to Cameron in exchange for 250,000 pounds ($397,000).
Speaking to reporters posing as wealth fund executives, Cruddas claimed large donors have previously been invited to private dinners with Cameron and his wife Samantha in their Downing Street apartment. He said “things will open up” for anybody willing to make a large donation, adding, “it will be awesome for your business.”
British lawmakers recommended capping donations to political parties to curb the perception of corruption after a 2006 police investigation into accusations that the-then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party sold seats in the House of Lords for financial support. In 2010, Cameron said he was “disgusted” by a secretly filmed television report claiming to show former Labour ministers discussing how they could use their experience and contacts in government to lobby on behalf of companies.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said high-value donors could expect to be invited to dinners with Cameron, though not in his Downing Street apartment. “There’s nothing remotely improper about that, or new, and all parties do that,” Maude told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show. “What’s being alleged here is that you can buy influence, you can buy policy, and that is simply not the case.”
Maude said the only people invited into Cameron’s private apartments were personal friends, and that their identities should remain private.
Cameron described yesterday’s claims as “completely unacceptable” and said it was “right” that Cruddas had resigned. An opposition Labour Party spokesman, Michael Dugher, yesterday wrote to Cameron demanding that he publish details of donors who have visited the prime minister both at Downing Street and at his official country residence, Chequers.
“What happened is completely unacceptable, it shouldn’t have happened,” Cameron said in televised comments at a Sports Relief event in Buckinghamshire, England yesterday. “It’s quite right that Peter Cruddas has resigned. I’ll make sure there’s a proper party inquiry to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“I think people are bound to ask questions about whether policy is being made in the national interest or the Conservative Party’s interest,” Labour leader Ed Miliband said in an e-mailed statement last night. “That’s why there needs to be a statement made in the House of Commons and a proper independent investigation on what happened.”
The Conservative Party made “well over” 5 million pounds selling private dinners with Cameron to the party’s biggest donors, in which they can pick up “key bits of information” by asking him questions, the Sunday Times cited Cruddas as saying.
He said that “premier league” donors prepared to give 250,000 pounds a year could lobby Cameron directly and their views would be “fed in” to the Downing Street policy unit. There was no point in “scratching around” with donations of 10,000 pounds, he said.
His claims were “utterly disgraceful,” Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, a member of the coalition government’s Liberal Democrat party, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr program yesterday. He said such behavior had “no place” in politics.
Alexander said the incident should prompt fresh efforts to reform the party funding system.
There is a “perception that people who make large donations, be they wealthy people from the City or trade unions, have influence,” he said. “They should not have that influence, nor the perception of that influence.”
The Conservative Party said that donations “do not buy government policy” and that it will “urgently investigate” any evidence to the contrary, according to an e-mailed statement.
In his resignation statement, Cruddas, founder of CMC Markets Plc, described his comments as “bluster” and said there was “no question” of donors gaining undue access to senior figures.
“Clearly there is no question of donors being able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians,” Cruddas said. “It was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation.”
Cruddas will be replaced as the party’s co-treasurer by Stanley Fink, a Conservative e-mailed statement said.