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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.