Cash for access row hits Tories

Julian Harris
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TALKS over the future of party funding are being fast-tracked to the top of the political agenda after the Tory treasurer was caught offering access to the Prime Minister in exchange for large donations.

Peter Cruddas was forced to step down yesterday after appearing to promise potential donors the chance to influence government policy.

Donors who give the Conservative Party more than £200,000 can have their views “put into the policy committee at Number 10,” he told undercover reporters.

Last night, David Cameron’s aides were forced to admit that the Prime Minister had used his taxpayer-funded flat at Number 10 Downing Street to host a “small number of” dinners with Conservative party donors.

Senior Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander yesterday said that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg will head up a “short sharp series of discussions” on funding between the leading Westminster parties over the coming weeks.

David Cameron has promised an internal party enquiry, “to make sure this can’t happen again”.

“What happened was completely unacceptable,” Cameron added. “This is not the way we raise money in the Conservative Party.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband demanded an independent investigation into the allegations, which were unveiled by the Sunday Times.

It is normal for large donors to meet party leaders, with the Conservative website advertising that people who give £50,000 a year “are invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches”.

However, the meetings should only concern party activities, and not the business of government. Yesterday Cruddas said that he had been wrong to mention a Number 10 policy unit to the undercover fake donors.

“I have never knowingly even met anyone from the Number 10 policy unit,” he said.

“I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster in that conversation.”

Cruddas founded spread betting firm CMC Markets in 1989, and later founded his eponymous charitable trust, intended to help disadvantaged children.

He is set to be replaced by Lord Fink, formerly chief of the hedge fund Man Group. Fink held the party treasurer post until earlier this month, when Cruddas took over.

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