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The C-Word

March 25, 2012

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.


17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2012 1:55 pm

    Well written Alex. The same old Tory scum

  2. Jonault permalink
    March 25, 2012 4:53 pm

    I think everybody knows that this buying of policy goes on by individuals or companies either directly or by using lobby groups. It’s nice to have them caught out occasionally so that the electorate are reminded about how greedy, self-serving and untruthful a large number of MPs are, regardless of political party.

  3. Bob Wachovski permalink
    March 25, 2012 5:03 pm

    “Well written Alex. The same old Tory scum”

    And any words on the same old Labour scum who actually sold peerages (with a sitting Prime Minister interviewed by police!) and sold policy on Formula 1 sponsorship for a cool million.

    No, thought not.

    • March 25, 2012 6:48 pm

      This is exactly what Alex was saying though. You can’t justify present corruption by pointing to past (unproven) examples.

      How ever you look at it, this new revelation is incredibly worrying and disturbing.

    • March 25, 2012 8:21 pm

      Bob, you are right. I’m so sorry. I meant to write a blog about F1 sponsorship in 1997, as that is the burning issue of the day, but got side-tracked by the current PM breaking up the NHS into bits and flogging them to whomever can afford the highest donation. I will do one on F1 in 1997 soon – I promise!

  4. David Topple permalink
    March 25, 2012 5:24 pm

    Another good article. Nevertheless, I very much doubt that the situation as regards political donations is very much different in the Labour Party, or in the Liberal Democrats for that matter.

    How the hell this country’s ruling elite can preach to other nations about ‘democracy’ is beyond me. I don’t actually believe there ever HAS been a proper democracy ANYWHERE. Perhaps someone can correct me if I’m wrong? One tragedy of having these bastards in control of the country is that some people end up being attracted to, shall we say, more ‘radical’ organisations. Being ‘ex-BNP’, I know what I’m talking about…

  5. March 25, 2012 7:46 pm

    Excellent post!

    What about this?
    (Members of the Royal House in Spain will be not affected by the new Transparency Law/Act.)

  6. March 25, 2012 8:35 pm

    I don’t think that Labour should be the ones complaining about grotesque politics.

    • March 25, 2012 8:57 pm

      That’s neither here nor there. I am complaining.

    • Pelirrojo permalink
      March 26, 2012 9:15 am

      So… by your logic, there is no point drawing attention to any nefarious activity by party x which has already been committed by party y.

      That makes PERFECT sense.

  7. John King permalink
    March 25, 2012 8:57 pm

    Well articulated. Lets hope that real hard evidence about those who donated in support of the Health & Social Care bill becomes public.

  8. March 25, 2012 10:02 pm

    Honestly? Nothing surprised me any more – I just wish it would all come out and we can have some proper reprisals … I love the way there is all the finger-pointing at other regimes being so corrupt – when there are plenty of people here living in glass houses …

  9. keeshond permalink
    March 26, 2012 11:57 am

    I’d love to have heard anything like this on the broadcast media, Alex. Having worked for a short time in the world of Corporate Affairs (yes, it does sound as though you’re doing something constructive, but it is simply a catch-all for Public Relations/Public Affairs), I am not surprised that for David Cameron, the industry’s doppelganger in government, this act of “blue murder” would have seemed like business as usual.
    Some elements of the damage limitation strategy now being used to try and close down the story have included the hasty deployment of a few senior Conservative MPs to take to Sunday’s airwaves, followed by a briefing to the BBC’s political editor who duly used the word “perception” time and again to try and neutralise the story.
    On Monday a raft of local Conservative party chairmen and supporters have been mobilised to ring in to radio programmes across the country in order to try and counter public disgust. They may have even succeeded with the specious argument that D.C is entitled to entertain friends to dinner, but they have been sussed and are retreating from the ludicrous early line from Francis Maud that Downing Street is just like any other home in Britain.
    Unfortunately, I doubt whether most journalists and columnists on Conservative supporting newspapers, who are so quick to trot out the line that the monarchy is worth 50p from every member of the public, will support the state funding of political parties which would cost the taxpayer even less. They may go along with a donation cap, just so long as the other two parties don’t benefit.
    The party’s unspoken dirty secret is that a cleaner could have as much influence as a commodities trading partner, should enough members of unions decide to bundle their donations and opt in.

  10. Frances HInde permalink
    March 26, 2012 3:04 pm

    Well done, such a clear review of the scandal. what we need is someone to do the same when Cameron’s friend’s start cherry-picking the NHS.


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