Party donations, Michael Fallon and Peter Cruddas claims
- 26 March 2012
- From the section UK Politics
I pushed Tory Party deputy chairman Michael Fallon on BBC1's Sunday Politics, in the wake of the Sunday Times' "cash for access" revelations, if the prime minister's meetings with major party donors were all documented and in the public domain.
Mr Fallon pointed out that all meetings with ministers were now documented, had at least one official present and were published -- a departure from past practice.
But we knew that. What I wanted to know was if there was a public record of more informal dinners between the prime minister (and other leading Tory ministers) and big donors to the party, say in Downing Street's private quarters or Chequers.
Mr Fallon sort of indicated that this too was public information but, equally, indicated by his replies that he wasn't quite sure. I said that if he could check and point us to the source of this material we'd publish it on our website.
This is not going to happen. It's clear from the lead story in today's Times and from the Today programme's interview with Tory cabinet minister Francis Maude that Mr Cameron is not keen to publish details of who he's dined with privately in his own quarters and at his own expense in Downing Street.
It is equally clear, as Mr Maude admitted, that if you are a big donor to party funds then you expect some access to leading Tories from the PM down. Indeed, the degree of access can be determined by the amount you donate.
So in a strictly literal sense there is cash for access, if not in the crude way suggested by outgoing party treasurer Peter Cruddas, who has had to resign after a Sunday Times sting caught him dangling all sorts of unauthorised goodies in front of a potential (fake) donor.
We will see if the "refusal-to-publish" line can hold. There will be pressure on Mr Cameron to reveal which major donors he has seen, in whatever context and how often.
The Prime Minister's people argue he has a right to a private life. Others argue that, because of accusations of cash for access sunlight should be shone on who bankrolls parties and how often leaders see them.
What would apply to the Tories, of course, should equally apply to Labour and the Lib Dems.
Many years ago, as editor of The Sunday Times, I ran a campaign for all major donations to political parties to be made public. At the time you could donate large sums to a party in secret.
Diners and donors
The Tories were especially adamant that people should have the right to give money in confidence; but in the end the demands for transparency won the day and very few would want to return to secret donations.
We shall see if transparency wins the day a second time when it comes to diners and donors.
Full Disclosure: I dined last July with the PM and his wife in their private Downing Street flat along with two other broadcast journalists and their partners. It was a convivial evening, though I didn't learn very much, and the first time I'd dined with a PM since John Major in 1992.
I had reasonably regular cups of tea with Tony Blair in his early days as PM and saw Gordon Brown a couple of times at the Treasury (but never as PM).
I assumed dinner with the Camerons would be put into the public domain since I think that's what's now meant to happen when ministers meet the press in private.
But if it wasn't, it is now!