Not been able to blog for awhile, end of term madness kept we away. But anyway, what a week Ive missed! On Saturday night we learnt that the Sunday Times had caught the vice treasurer of the Tories Peter Crudas, soliciting donations from overseas donors (which is illegal!) in exchange for dinner with Dave Cameron or Osborne in Downing Street, and the opportunity to put forward ideas to be taken up by the governments policy committee. In essence he seemed to be implying that one could buy a policy for as little as £250,000, with a slap up meal in No. 10 thrown into the bargain!
Now these allegations coming on the foot of the 50p tax cut makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the recent Tory budget was, as I discussed previously, a rich mans budget. It fudged any real deficit reduction to future generations and took £300 out of the wallets of every granny in the country (maybe they can have a whip-round and pay for one of the old dears to go to dinner with Dave C and wallop him over the head with a handbag!). It also paints the conservatives with the corrupt and sleaze label just two years into their government (it took the Maggie/Major government a good 8 years to get to this stage, as did it for the expense scandal under Brown, thats got to be a record!).
Of course the Tories seem to have manoeuvred out of this crisis quickly, possibly by deliberately engineering a panic at the petrol pumps. Peter Cruddas fell on his Gin Bottle in under 24 hours. David Cameron, even appeared in his dorky looking fun run outfit (which gave me a good laugh!) to refute the allegations. Initially the PM tried to argue that what went on in his private house, was private (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas an appropriate metaphor given that he seems to run the place like it was a casino), but then quickly relented and said hed publish any details of his dinner dates…but Id point to the small print, hell only be publishing dinners at Downing Street, so these little get togethers can still go ahead if moved to another location!
Guess whose coming to dinner?
Incidentally, if there are any Tories who query whether its unfair for the PM not to have privacy in his own home, lets reverse the scenario and image an allegation came out about, say, Tony Blair trying to score some Charlie off of a Colombian drug dealer (well, he had GW Bush coming around!). Now if the Torys are to be believed, so long as this hand over was done in private in No. 10, then one presumes that the right wing press would back off ..hardly!
Indeed if David Cameron wants to have one of his Eaton Chums around so they can reminisce about playing flog the peasants on the Oxford high street, well okay, thats private. But the instant discussions turn to politics, and this chum happens to have either a vested interest in that policy changing or he is a donor to the Tories, David Cameron has in essence just clocked in and is now on the job and hence anything he says or does is now part of the public record.
But am I shocked at these allegations? well to be honest, no, not really, other than I didnt realise it was that cheap to bribe a politician in this country (then again there is a recession on you know!). Do I believe that such corruption is merely restricted to the Nasty Party aka the Tories? absolutely not. Labour under Blair and Brown were haunted by occasional allegations of sleaze (notably Bernie Ecclestone) and the expenses scandal happened under their watch (although quite a few Tories did get caught out, most famously Moatgate). Miliband recently had a few wealthy chums around too. Im certainly of the opinion that the Tories are the worst of a bad lot but that doesnt mean I think any of the other parties are a bunch of angels.
Of course what I found most objectionable about this story was the foreign element of it. The Sunday Times fake donors told Cruddas that they were working on behalf of Middle East investors. This is sort of like a Daily Mail-esque fantasy (sneaky dark skinned foreigners taking over Britain!), but no, not only did he not seem bothered about this fact he was keen to help them get around the law ..isnt that illegal?
This latter point is important, there are rules limiting donations to UK political parties to voting and tax paying Brits because, well its an appropriate reward for having the decency to pay tax and contribute to British society. One of the core Tory arguments for not hammering non-dom tax dodgers is that they pay a heavy price as it is for their tax dodging by being essentially shut out of British politics and unable to gain influence over government. Not from where Im sitting! Didnt Lord Ashcroft bankroll the Torys the last election? Are they not beholden to such donors for the Partys running costs? And whats Phil Green still doing in cabinet? Clearly the Tories have just blown away another of there own arguments.
Any non-doms who dont pay their fair share of UK income tax should be persona non grata as far as the UK government goes. They should be bared from meeting any UK politician, ineligible for any government contract (or a contract from a government quango, or indeed our state owned banks), and be charged for using public services on a pay as you go basis (i.e. next time Phil Green flies in he finds a guy waiting in the terminal with a bill for using the states runway, and when he gets to the office another with a bill for using the Queens highways, etc.).
This crisis has been building for years. As Sir Christopher Kelly who investigated the previous scandal with the Standards in Public life committee, pointed out, it would likely take a scandal to get the politicians to do anything about it. He seems to have been proved right. In his report he made various recommendations, notably limiting donations to individuals (not corporations or unions) and capping them at £10,000 per person. The politicians in both the main parties baulked at this. I think his suggestions (of which Ive listed just two) need to be taken on board pretty urgently.
Others talk about the public funding of political parties. Im somewhat against this. Corruption and sleaze with parties is partially due to the fact they end up beholden to donors, but also because of whom they are. There are far too many millionaires within the current government, which naturally gives them a strong incentive to bring in rich friendly policies and puts them out of touch with the real world, as the recent so-called pasty-gate and Jerrycan gate incidents showed. So public funding of parties would do nothing to prevent this. Also Im not comfortable with the idea of Nick Griffin and the BNP getting state funding (the only state funding they deserve is the sort provided on the Isle of Wight!)
I think what needs to really happen here is to take the money out of UK politics altogether. While yes it takes money to run parties, no question, but we want to limit the amount of money parties receive, be it from the public or private purse. If theres one thing that annoys me about UK politics its the import of this American idea of politics by spin and stage managed photo ops, sound bites and info-tainment events. This means we wind up with photo genetic but otherwise inept politicians who cannot make the big decisions and govern effectively. Such polices have in the US led to virtual political paralysis, where the parties on both sides cant make any of the big decisions they need to make, and as a result we are likely to be in the last few years of the American Empire.
No, if we want effective politicians elected for what they stand for and their skills, rather than how good they look holding babies, then we need to cap the amount of money political parties are allowed to spend in a year, particularly during elections, as such media events, advertising and focus groups tend to be expensive to run. Every party should get equal airtime in the lead up to an election (maybe a slight swing for the bigger parties although the debates will likely achieve that) and not allowed to purchase additional advertising, other than a few campaign posters (a simple rule requiring they be put up by party activists as with any leaflet distribution would nip this one in the bud).
This scandal has presented us with an opportunity to once and for all, clean up politics and we should take it. Unfortunately, from where Im sitting it seems the only opportunity it has presented is to the Tories to provoke a fuel crisis to distract everyone from this mess, labour to visit a Greggs and Murdoch to get revenge on the Tories for the hacking scandal.