Tory treasurer resigns after cash for access sting

Peter Cruddas secretly recorded offering access to David Cameron and George Osborne for £250,000.

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.

UPDATE 10.10am:

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.

UPDATE 5pm:

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".

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.