Originally written for publication in The Boar, Warwick University’s student newspaper.
Less than a year ago, David Cameron told us that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. In hindsight, he was spot on, but at the time, few of us realized he was in fact preparing us for what Nick Robinson so delicately deigned the ‘re-toxification’ of the Tories.
Most of us didn’t expect much from Dave, then. Indeed, if he’d only marginally cut the number of private meetings with multimillionaire donors, we’d have probably been satisfied. But, fast-forward a few months and now he’s in a lot of hot water. A serious amount of hot water, various journalists clamor to inform us. So much hot water, that we’d be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that David Cameron now primarily resides in some sort of metaphorical political kettle. But why we’ve only so excitedly forced him in there after the most recent revelations, is a mystery to me.
The fact that large donations get you access to the PM really shouldn’t shock us. We’ve repeatedly been fed the line that a large donation gets you into what Cruddas called ‘the premier league’. But the Tories have their own public name for it. On their website, the Conservative Party offers you access to what they call ‘The Leaders Group’ for the paltry sum of £50 000 a year. You will be “invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures … at dinners [and] post-PMQ lunches”. It’s not £250k, so it may not get you into the ‘premier league’, but as it requires over 8000 hours of work on the minimum wage to raise the required funds it’s by no means a steal for all the ‘real people’ Dave has always been so eager to connect with.
But we’ve also been shocked by the influence over policy these donations allegedly buy. Really? Why? What did we believe donors were talking about over those fifty-grand Post-PMQ lunches? The weather? EastEnders? The England team? If you ask me, being part of the ‘leaders group’ does in fact make you sound and seem more influential than being part of a lowly ‘policy unit’.
Ed Miliband has seized this scandal as the political opportunity it was, of course, destined to be. But his hands are hardly clean. Putting aside the incredible influence that the unions predictably and consistently purchase in his party, on the Labour party’s website he invites you to join ‘The Thousand Club’. As a member, you will gain access to to ‘Exclusive Thousand Club Q & A events’ as well as ‘summer and winter receptions’ – although, it should be noted, Ed doesn’t promise he’ll be at any of these. Coming in at a considerably lower price of £1200 per year, you might get up close and personal to a top opposition politician for a lot less than a Tory. That said, as a struggling supermarket retail assistant desperate to engage in Labour party politics at this level, you’d still have to put in 190 hours of backbreaking minimum wage work to raise the cash to join.
As a result of the scandal, lists of donors David Cameron has dined with in his flat are being published as I write – and that is by no means a bad thing. But our sudden moral indignation seems odd to me. What’s more, it’s all come a little late. Could we not have got angry before the NHS bill went through parliament, and demanded to see how many private health company executives David Cameron has met with over the past few months? Only by seeing footage of Cruddas asking for large sums of money and telling us what we (deep down) already knew about policy makers and shakers, have we become engaged.
Putting all of this to one side, I should like to end this column positively. Looking to the future, like many others, I am waiting with bated breath for David Cameron’s announcement of the next “big scandal” that will seriously damage his party. Who knows – in a few months, we might be treated to secretly filmed footage of one of a top Tory advocating fox hunting and that, dear readers, would be huge.