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.

Abbas / Magnum Photos
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Portrait of a religion: Hindu rituals and celebrations across Asia

The Iranian photographer Abbas spent three years journeying through the Hindu religion capturing a wealth of sacred ceremonies.

 

My relationship with God,” Abbas says, “has always been strictly professional.”

The French-Iranian photographer has spent his life photographing every major religion on earth. But, be it the God of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs, he has always retained a degree of distance. He doesn’t tell me what to do,” Abbas says. “And I don’t tell Him what to do with his believers. It’s nothing personal.”

Abbas, 72, was born in Iran and raised in Algeria during that country’s fight for independence. As a young man, he made his name photographing the Iranian Revolution of the late 70s, including a now iconic image of an old, veiled woman dragged to her death by a lynch mob.

It’s not faith I’m interested in,” he says. “It’s what men make of their faith. I’m not interested in God, I’m interested in what people do in His name — the great things, and the stupid things.”

Now he has photographed the Hindu faith. And this, Abbas realised, was to be a bit more complicated than usual. Every major religion tell us to worship one God. They have one sacred text, one central religious authority, one idyll of a returning prophet. Apart from Hinduism.

A baba sanyassi by the altar he has erected to his god in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. Credit: Abbas / Magnum Photos 

Hinduism is a religion of more than 330 million Gods and Goddesses,”Abbas says. “They change name, nature and sex. They marry and divorce and ask for alimony. They are strangely familiar to us in their doubts and weaknesses. They are, all in all, very human gods. Like us, they are capable of the best and the worst.”

There are more than a billion Hindus in the world, making it the world's — and the UK’s — third largest religion. It's also the world's oldest religion, with key texts dating back to 1500 BC. But what do we know of this faith, one followed by around a million British citizens?

Hindus believe in Karma — a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. And so their faith is expressed through a dizzying variety of sacred rituals and celebrations, animals and insects, places and texts.

For his most recent photobook Gods I’ve Seen: Travels Among Hindus, published in October, Abbas travelled for three years through India, Bali, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

"Hinduism may be the least egalitarian of the great religions,” Abbas says. “But what diversity exists in its expression. All I had to do was go down to the street, and the religion unfolded before me. I would walk to the river and see a God thrown into the sea.” (This was the river Hoogly in Kolkata, India, where devotees drown a statue of Durga, the Bengali avatar of goddess Kali).

This series began on 1 January, 2011, in The Hanuman Temple of New Delhi. There he discovered a monkey deity all of 15 meters tall. The city’s aerial metro trundles past at the height of the monkey’s waist, and devotees enter through an opening between its legs. “I was seized with laughter,” Abbas says. “I could tell I was going to like this religion, after more than 35 years of photographing the Sons of Abraham.”

 

In the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ most sacred place, a pilgrim holds a leaf to receive the morning food offering, Amritsar, India. 
Credit: Abbas / Magnum Photos 

Abbas’ photographs are remarkable in their scope, from a Tantric Sannyasi in Tarapith, India, who uses the skull of his dead guru to enhance his spiritual powers during meditation, to naked devotees in Allahabad, in the north of the country, who rush to the holy waters for a ritual bath, to a man in Colombo, Sri Lanka, suspended high in the air from hooks inserted into his flesh, to Jain devotees in Mumbai, wearing masks to avoid harming insects by swallowing them.

On his penultimate journey, Abbas found himself in Junjungan, a village near Ubud in the uplands of Bali. Every 30 years, the village has a festival of sacrifice.

For a week, praying, dancing and offerings to the deities, mostly of live animals, succeed one another,” Abbas says. “All domestic animals, or those easily caught and unfortunate enough to be alive on this friendly island, are sacrificed, from the largest buffalo to the very smallest chicks, a tortoise, a newly born piglet.”

Students from the Indonesia Institute of Arts dress up for a rejong traditional dance in the Batur temple, Kinmantan, Bali. Credit: Abbas / Magnum Photos 

Abbas saw a pair of dogs, muzzled, tied to a pole and exposed to the sun. “The devotees prayed around them, sitting on the ground with their hands folded above their head. As the two dogs became more agitated, so a devotee tried to calm their distress by stroking them. Soon after they were massacred, and not eaten. It was such an innocent form of sadism.”

Remembering the sight of the dying dogs, Abbas says: “Abrahamic religions try to suppress the dark side of mankind by encouraging the struggle towards its annihilation. Hinduism recognises our dark sides, but urges their coexistence with the good and the light, in order to reach a sense of personal harmony. It’s a philosophy, I admit, with which I am more in tune.”

Gods I’ve Seen: Travels Among Hindus is available from Phaidon.

Tom Seymour is a freelance journalist.