The Conservative Party co-Treasurer has been forced to resign after being secretly recorded offering access to the Prime Minister and Chancellor in return for cash donations of up to £250,000.
Undercover reporters from the Sunday Times (£) recorded Peter Cruddas offering people - who he thought were a lobbyist and her two overseas clients - direct access to David Cameron if they joined a "premier league" of donors who give six-figure sums.
He is heard saying:
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.
You do really pick up a lot of information and when you see the prime minister, you're seeing David Cameron, not the prime minister. But within that room everything is confidential - you can ask him practically any question you want.
If you're unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at No 10 - we feed all feedback to the policy committee.
He revealed that the party makes £5m a year from selling private dinners with Cameron.
Cruddas, a multimillionaire who is 90th on the Sunday Times Rich List, has only been in his position as party fundraiser for three weeks. He resigned last night within hours of the story being published. In his resignation statement, he said he deeply regretted the "bluster" of the conversation:
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.
A party spokesman said an investigation would be launched immediately. One person at least predicted this. Cameron came to power criticising this kind of "secret corporate lobbying", saying that it was "the next big scandal waiting to happen". It appears that he was right.
Labour figures have been swift to condemn the revelations. David Miliband told the Andrew Marr Show this morning that "the idea that policy is for sale is grotesque" and that the scandal "goes to the heart of whether or not you can trust the Conservatives".
This follows Tom Watson telling BBC News this morning:
It appears that if you have enough money you can still buy access to power and policy and so I think we need to hear how many of these premier league dinners David Cameron has held and what policy suggestions where given to his policy machinery in Downing Street.
Cameron has responded to the scandal, insisting that Cruddas' behaviour is not indicative of how the Conservatives raise funds. The Prime Minister said:
What happened was completely unacceptable. This is not the way that we raise money in the Conservative party, it shouldn't have happened. It's quite right that Peter Cruddas resigned. I'll make sure there is a proper party inquiry to make sure this can't happen again.
However, it might not be that easy to shake off. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has called for "a full independent investigation to reassure the British public" and ascertain "what happened, who knew what happened and what contributions were made".