One of the earliest Tory reactions I saw to the news that you can buy a private dinner with David Cameron was certainly predictable: Iain “The Slapper” Dale tweeted
Now is the time for Cameron to say Tories will no longer accept donations of more than £50k. Challenge others to follow suit.
— Iain Dale (@IainDale) March 24, 2012
and then in response perhaps to people noting his reaction had sounded almost positive, he added about half an hour later:
Out of threats, there is always an opportunity – Cameron has always been good at seizing these. But perhaps it is Clegg’s moment…
— Iain Dale (@IainDale) March 24, 2012
It’s only eighty-four years ago that a working-class woman would have been able to vote at all. (The Representation of the People Acts 1884, 1918, and 1928 gradually removed property tests from the right to vote.) Since it first became possible for working-class men to vote, trade unions have been providing funds to get MPs elected who would represent labour in Parliament. In order to campaign for office, a Parliamentary candidate needs money: in order to win, they need more than just their own personal funds, no matter how large. Even in the age of social media, this is true. And where a politician takes money, they will take policy.
Part of the problem with Labour policy has become the conviction by careerist Labour politicians that they will get funding from trade unions forever while taking their policies from the Daily Mail and The Sun. But that isn’t a problem on the same scale as this:
Peter Cruddas, who having been found out has been ordered to resign, was caught on tape admitting
“Two hundred grand to 250 is premier league… what you would get is, when we talk about your donations the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron/Osborne dinners,” he says.
He said the meetings were good for picking up “a lot of information”, and that he would ensure suggestions were fed into the No 10 policy unit.
“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.”
Where Labour gets most of its money from is UNITE and other trade unions. (I am by the process of UNITE folding smaller unions into itself one of the 1.5 million members.) Tony Blair and Gordon Brown didn’t have cosy dinners with leaders of UNITE and Unison. Which would you rather: a Prime Minister who regularly had dinner with the likes of Mark Serwotka (not that Brown or Blair ever did) or who regularly has dinner with the likes of Lloyd Blankfein – as Cameron certainly does?
Where the Conservatives get their money is from
Hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms contributed more than a quarter of all the Tories’ private donations – which this year poured in at a rate equal to £1m a month – the study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found.
The figures show an increase in the proportion of party funds coming from the financial sector, raising fears that the City’s financial influence over the Tories is on the rise as key pieces of legislation are discussed by the coalition government.
There are arguments to be made that the donations from trade unions represent masses of individual donations rather than one big donation. I am not an enthusiastic Labour party supporter and have never been a Labour party member – they’ve grown too right-wing for me – but I have no problem with a share of my union dues going to fund the Labour Party, because I want there to be a party in the UK with a chance at government which is not, as the Conservative Party is, sitting in the pocket of some of the biggest corporations and financiers in the world. The smooth Conservative equation of getting funds from the likes of Goldman Sachs versus getting funds from trade unions – you would have to be morally bankrupt, a cheap-work conservative to your bones, to see those two as equivalents.
In the US, Republicans and Democrats get their money from much the same sources. And they are both right-wing parties. Avedon Carol at the Sideshow:
Talking about Ron Paul’s connections to the Koch brothers is all very well, but if you’re ignoring the Democratic Party’s own ties to some of the most right-wing funders in America, you are missing the larger point, which is that our entire political apparatus has been hijacked by these people. Electing Democrats no longer means building and promoting liberal policies, it just means we don’t fight as hard to do it because we’re supposed to be protecting and defending Democrats – even Democrats whose “strategy”, apparently, is to sabotage their own party. But if the Democratic leadership is manifestly unliberal, as it certainly is, why would we want to defend them? What is the point of electing Democrats whose sole purpose is to help the Republicans slip their own hideously right-wing policies by us without our fighting back?
A longer response to the news at ConHome by Tim Montgomerie was virtually identical to Iain Dale’s double-tweet summary:
Caps on donations must not lead to parties becoming dependent upon direct state funding: I, personally, favour much lower donation caps. Something of the order of £10,000. If Labour are forbidden in law from getting 80% to 90% of its money from the unions (as is the case now) – and the Tories are banned from receiving such a large share of their funding from financial and corporate interests – we’ll end up with political parties that are more in tune with a broader cross-section of society. The internet gives political parties huge opportunities to replace large gifts from a small number of people with small gifts from a large number of people. These gifts could be encouraged by some form of tax relief. Tax relief for voluntary donations is a much better solution than direct state funding. If we move to a Cash for Cameronsystem of direct state funding the existing political parties will become further removed from ordinary voters and it will be harder for new parties and independent candidates to break into politics.
A system of direct state funding, presumably based on party membership numbers[*], would disadvantage the Conservatives enormously. But what Tim Montgomerie is advocating is a switch to a US-style funding – which has led to both parties running to the right. The Democratic Party is about equivalent to the Conservative Party in terms of public policy – Barack Obama and David Cameron both feel healthcare ought to be profitable to the few and expensively accessible to the many – but the Republican Party is so far to the right it is politically the equivalent of the BNP.
[* Though I found out via that the Hayden Commission proposed capping spending and funding parties according to the number of votes cast for them - five years ago. Not something the Tories would go for.]
David Cameron’s people are taking cash for access. This has happened before – though Tories trying to divert attention from their crooked leader and his fundraising buddies by invoking Tony Blair, sound as convincing as Republicans trying to distract attention from George W. Bush’s wrongdoings by invoking Clinton’s blowjobs.
The Tories will always benefit financially by being the party which is run for the rich, by the rich, to the benefit of the rich. The Parliamentary inquiry is the place to discuss whether the Sunday Times got this story for Murdoch’s revenge on Cameron for embarrassing him so publicly. That the Tories will try to claim that the only problem with donations of £250,000 buying access to the Prime Minister is the size of the donation is an obvious ploy – but it’s obviousness won’t keep the right-wing press from headlining with it on Monday.
Who would pay £250k to change Tory policy when LibDems would do it for £2.50 and a hug?
— Fraser Nelson (@frasernelson) March 24, 2012
The Tories sold off the NHS in England to their donors and George Osborne awarded himself and his cronies in Cabinet a 5% tax cut. Cash for access? The main difference seems to be that for £250,000, you also get dinner.
‘It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long… an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money. I’m talking about lobbying — and we all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism. We believe in market economics, not crony capitalism. So we must be the party that sorts all this out.’
And by “sorts all this out” he seems to have meant “provide access in an orderly fashion”, not end it.
Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, obligingly provides Tory support:
“What these headlines show today is the absolute necessity of having reformes to our party funding system to deal with this sort of taint that big donors might be able to influence … policy,” Alexander said on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, highlighting also Labour’s support from trade unions.
However, he rejected the idea that “big money” influenced government, saying: “There’s no prospect of donors influencing government policy but we need to make sure the system does not allow the perception to arise either.”
Yes, perception, that’s the problem.