Q&A: Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas donation row explained
Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has resigned after newspaper revelations. Here's a guide to what has happened, and what the political party funding rules are:
What has happened?
Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has resigned after secretly filmed footage showed him apparently offering access to the prime minister for a donation of £250,000 a year. He made the claim to Sunday Times reporters posing as potential donors. He said £250,000 gave "premier league" access, including dinner with David Cameron and possibly the chance to influence government policy.
What did he promise the undercover reporters?
He said "the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron/Osborne dinners". These were good for picking up "a lot of information", and that he would ensure suggestions were fed into policy people at No 10. "You will be able to ask him [Mr Cameron] practically any question you want. If you're unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at number 10 - we feed all feedback to the policy committee." He also said some donors had dined, with Samantha Cameron present, in the PM's flat in Downing Street. He added: "It'll be awesome for your business. You'll be... well pleased. Because your guests will be photographed with David Cameron. We do that, you know."
What cover story were the reporters using?
The reporters said they were British expats working for a company called Zenith incorporated in Liechtenstein with wealthy Middle Eastern funders. They wanted to do business in the UK, buying government assets such as the Royal Mail - a subject Mr Cruddas suggested they could raise directly with Mr Cameron as premier league donors.
Who is Peter Cruddas?
He is a multi-millionaire - with a £750m fortune built from financial spread betting, according to the Sunday Times rich list - who has been co-treasurer of the Conservative Party since June 2011. He runs a charity to help disadvantaged young people - his biography on his foundation's website says he grew up on a council estate in inner city London and had to leave school at 15. He is a big donor to the Prince's Trust, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme and is on the board of the Royal Opera House.
Why did he resign?
In his resignation statement he said: "I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster... clearly there is no question of donors being able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians. Specifically, it was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation. Similarly, I have never knowingly even met anyone from the Number 10 policy unit. But in order to make that clear beyond doubt, I have regrettably decided to resign with immediate effect."
What did Number 10 say?
They said it was "immediately clear" Mr Cruddas would have to go when they saw the newspaper's clips: "He was saying numerous things no-one recognised." They said there would be a thorough internal party inquiry into what happened.
So were any laws broken?
No. The main law covering party political donations is that any over £7,500 have to be declared and are published by the Electoral Commission, as their guide for party treasurers makes clear. The donations must come from someone who is registered to vote in the UK or from a UK registered company. To comply with these latter laws, the Sunday Times says Mr Cruddas suggested the fake firm open a British subsidiary or use UK employees as a conduit.
So what's so wrong with what he suggested?
The most damaging suggestion was that rich donors were able to buy influence over government policy. The man who reviewed political funding and produced a report on it last year, Sir Christopher Kelly, said the public were suspicious of big donors and the idea that they were able to buy influence.
What's been David Cameron's reaction to the revelations?
David Cameron said Mr Cruddas's claims of access in return for donations were "completely unacceptable" and "shouldn't have happened". The Conservatives stress that the undercover reporters were only having an initial chat with Mr Cruddas and any such donation would never have made it past their compliance procedures. BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said Mr Cameron had entertained some big donors to dinner in his flat, but only ones who were there as long-time friends. A source said it was untrue to suggest there was "routine selling of access to David and the flat". No 10 have, so far, said they will not publish details of private dinner guests.
What can donors normally expect from the Conservatives?
The Conservative Party website publishes a list of what people can expect from different levels of donation. These range from becoming a party patron for £50 a month to becoming part of the Leader's Group for £50,000 a year - members "are invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQs lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches".
What has been the political reaction?
Labour have called for an independent inquiry into the affair and urged No 10 to publish details of all dinner engagements Mr Cameron had with donors at No 10. Labour leader Ed Miliband said the claims were "disturbing" and the public needed to know if donors paid for access and could have influenced policy at any stage. Labour, which currently offers donors invitations to party receptions and events, have also urged the Conservatives to make a statement to Parliament. Lib Dem cabinet minister Danny Alexander told the BBC: "It's utterly disgraceful and there is no place for this sort of unacceptable behaviour in British politics."
Haven't the other parties had similar problems?
During the last Labour government there were suggestions both of donors trying to buy influence - such as attempting to delay a ban on tobacco ads in Formula 1 - and later of expecting to get honours in return for donations, although the cash-for-honours investigation did not lead to any charges being brought. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, faced calls to return a £2.4m donation from Michael Brown in 2005 after he was convicted of fraud in 2008.
Haven't they all been talking about changing the rules?
Yes. The three largest UK parties have said they want the rules on political funding to change. They all agree there is the risk that the public will perceive influence is being bought by large donors, whether City financiers or trade unions. The coalition agreement pledged to "pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics". The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life held an inquiry into the issue, publishing a report in November suggesting a £10,000 cap on individual donations, allowing union members to decide whether or not to donate to Labour and bringing in more taxpayer funding for the parties.
So is it going to happen?
It is now five years since cross-party talks began on reforming the system. They have broken down on a number of occasions without agreement. Although all three parties say they want reform, and are to begin a new series of talks, there has yet to be agreement on the size of any donation cap, and whether trade union donations to Labour should be covered. As the BBC's deputy political editor James Landale wrote at the time of the Committee on Standards in Public Life's report - "the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all agree that the only way forward is through consensus, yet that for now is the only thing on which there is consensus".