corruption /kəˈrʌpʃ(ə)n/ [mass noun]: 1. dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.
I am grateful to Peter Cruddas. I am grateful to him for unwittingly pulling off the sticky plaster and exposing this gaping political wound, about which many of us have been screaming – no pun intended – blue murder for a while.
If you are unaware of the chief fundraiser for the Tory party getting caught selling direct access to our Prime Minister and the no. 10 Policy Unit, you can read all about it and watch the video here.
There is a hair-raising symmetry to the story being broken by a Murdoch paper. After all, it is less than a year since Cameron was questioned in the House of Commons and, on nine separate occasions, failed to disclose whether he had discussed the BSkyB bid in private dinners with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch.
It also reignites the discussion about the lack of propriety involved in key political figures having financial interests in private Healthcare companies, including Health Secretary Andrew Lansley getting a private donation from one of them; and doing so on the eve of publishing a Bill, which would crack open the NHS like a pomegranate for the very same companies to peck at.
The Conservatives have been trying to empty a bucket of sand on the fire by claiming a) The chap was new; and b) The chap resigned. Sorry – that just doesn’t cut it.
The chap in question may have been new to the job of raising donations, but he is a very old hand in the business of making donations. According to Andrew Neil on BBC’s Sunday Politics, Mr Cruddas is the party’s third-biggest donor, having donated over £1.2 million. It stretches the limits of credulity to suggest that this is a naive “newbie” who knows not how donations work.
Further, let us consider the tiered system of donations, publicly advertised on the Conservative Party’s website. £10k will get you into The Renaissance Forum which includes the chance “to enjoy dinners and political debate with eminent speakers from the world of business and politics”. £25k grants membership to The Treasurers’ Group, which includes an invitation ”to join senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, lunches, drinks receptions”. For the princely sum of £50k you can be inside The Leader’s Group, members of which “are invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners”.
Why would anyone be surprised about the fact that a sum four or five times larger would get you even more benefits and a more intimate setting?
I am distinctly uninterested in excuses which point to transgressions of the distant past and go along the lines of “they were just as bad”. Firstly, getting elected on a ticket of “cleaning up politics” automatically surrenders the right to claim that the filth of the 90′s is an excuse for more filth in 2012. Secondly, as a citizen, I have every right to be most gravely concerned about unsavoury policy influence right now, involving those who have the power to make decisions; decisions which favour one business to the detriment of other businesses and the general public.
“These donations do not, in any way, affect policy” bleats David Cameron. This is a problematic position from the leader of a party which believes passionately in free market economics – and, by extension, in the idea that businesses make rational decisions based on their economic interest. Only a couple of months ago, he attacked the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament for being “in the pocket of the unions”. He equated the Labour Party’s dependence on unions to automatic undue influence.
Cameron must explain now, why the same is not true when it comes to his party. Or is the suggestion that one should be terribly worried about the influence of millions of unionised workers on the opposition, but not worried about rich individuals airing their policy concerns directly to the Prime Minister, in no.10 Downing Street, over a medium-rare fillet paid for by taxpayers.
The Ministerial Code, published by his own government only days after they took power, makes it crystal clear that a breach occurs not only when a conflict of interest arises, but when a minister puts themselves in a position which gives the appearance of a conflict. It states: “It is a well established and recognised rule that no Minister should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone which would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation“.
A quarter of a million is a hell of a gift. Cameron should explain why the Code does not apply to him.
And if he fails to do so, it is entirely justified to start using the C-word.