Friday, 6 April 2012

What do Tory donors have to hide?

Spring of discontent

It has been a dreadful few weeks for the Conservative party. A potential fuel strike has been woefully mismanaged and exacerbated by Francis Maude, with pumps closing around the country because of his misreading of the situation. The president of the AA described it as 'totally unnecessary, totally self-inflicted and quite frankly a bit of a mess'.

But it all began with another woefully inept budget from our Chancellor, which managed to displease every major newspaper apart from The Times. The aftermath of the budget has given us the furore over the Granny tax and Pastygate, both of which further the general public's perception of the Conservative front bench, which the Tory MP David Davis conveyed so eloquently:

They think we’re better off. They think we’re toffs. The truth of the matter is they look at the front bench and they see them all very dressed, well turned out, well fed, and perhaps feel they’re in a different world to them. That’s why the phrase ‘we are all in this together’ is very important but at the moment its not working.

Only the Chancellor can know how giving a tax cut to the richest in society while covertly cutting the taxes of many pensioners in a revenue-neutral budget would lessen this perception. So there had to be a reason why he chose to prioritise society's wealthiest individuals over the squeezed middle and the poor.

Undoubtedly part of this is because of his mistaken belief that the private sector will spearhead growth during these difficult economic times. This alone though, isn't a sufficient explanation. The Chancellor can't be foolish enough to think that by cutting the top rate of income tax as well as the rate of corporation tax he will be able to return our economy to a period of consistent growth. But then The Sunday Times broke the Peter Cruddas story and it all started to make sense.

Policy for sale

Cruddas boasted to an undercover reporter that he could grant access to the Prime Minister for a fee of £250,000. The timing of The Sunday Times' investigation could not have been worse for The Conservative party, as the aforementioned description of the front bench described by David Davis has gone from being a minority viewpoint to the accepted opinion.

Unfortunately, as with the events that led to Liam Fox's resignation last year, there was a great deal of outrage when the news broke, but little evidence that it will lead to wholesale reform of how our political parties are funded.

In fairness, although the Conservative party are in the spotlight in regards to this issue, both the Labour party and Liberal Democrats have had significant problems with their donors in their past, yet none of the major three parties appear ready to do the sensible thing and enact significant party finance reform that would put an end to these scandals which gradually erode the British public's faith in our political system.

Yet there remain a number of troubling questions that have yet to be answered by the Conservative party in relation to Cruddas' behaviour and its implications:

- The Conservative party immediately rubbished Cruddas' boasting and insisted the Prime Minister knew nothing of Cruddas' scheme. Yet subsequent revelations have revealed that he had direct access to David Cameron on at least thirteen occasions. Can the Prime Minister confirm or deny whether Cruddas ever approached him about his cash for access scheme on any one of these occasions?

- An unnamed hedge fund manager told the Financial Times the following about the dynamic between the Conservative party and rich donors like himself: "They don't want to be seen with us, and we don't want to be seen at all."

Why are the Conservatives afraid of being seen with the donors who are responsible for donating a large proportion of the party's funds? What are they afraid of? Perhaps more importantly, why do these donors wish to remain invisible? Isn't their disproportionate influence over the party's policies the antithesis of how a healthy democracy should function?

- What are we to make of the Prime Minister's leadership skills? Peter Cruddas, who was the Tory co-treasurer before his resignation, is yet another person who David Cameron allowed into the party's inner circle who has turned out to be at best dishonest and at worst engaged in criminal activities. First it was Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, now it is Peter Cruddas. At best the Prime Minister has been incredibly naive, at worst he has allowed his party's policies to be sold to the highest bidder. Neither quality is acceptable for any Prime Minister.

As Peter Oborne said in relation to Hackgate:
In the careers of all prime ministers there comes a turning point. He or she makes a fatal mistake from which there is no ultimate recovery...Until now it has been easy to argue that Mr Cameron was properly grounded with a decent set of values. Unfortunately, it is impossible to make that assertion any longer. He has made not one, but a long succession of chronic personal misjudgements.
These 'chronic personal misjudgements' show no sign of abating and are taking a toll on David Cameron's approval ratings, which dropped to -26 in a recent poll.

Our Chancellor has prioritised austerity over growth while our Prime Minister has prioritised the needs of his wealthy backers over the needs of the general public. Both of them are set on dismantling the welfare state in the name of deficit reduction. We must remain vigilant and investigate if any of the Tory's donors are set to benefit from any of the Coalition's 'reforms'. For if and when a smoking gun is found, they will face an uphill battle at the next General election.

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