This last week has displayed the extremes at which British politics functions. On the one hand, pastygate represented the unique, hilarious and frivolous way in which political discourse plays out in this country. How on earth a debate over VAT on baked products can turn into a debate over whether the Prime Minister did or didn’t eat a cornish pasty in Leeds station (see Newsnight on 28/03/12 for a quite hilarious run through of the argument), I do not know. Good, or bad, there is something bashfully British about the whole debate, that I can’t help but enjoy.
On the other hand, the cash-for-access scandal, which saw the Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas resign after secret filming showed him offering access to the Prime Minister and influence over policy in return for cash, represents yet another example of the deceit and quasi-corruption at the heart of British politics. How many more scandals do there have to be (after cash for honours, MPs expenses, the Murdoch/Brooks embarrassment and now cash for access) before all the political parties realise that the current systems of neopatrimonialism upon which party politics functions in this country are no longer sustainable?
…cash for access was prevalent.
The notion of neopatrimonialism is often applied to Africa and is used to refer to the informal patron-client networks that exist beneath the framework of legal, rational structures of government. I see no reason why this term (albeit with regards to party politics and perceptions rather than electoral politics) cannot be applied to the UK.
Denials from all parties involved can be made that no payments were ever received through Cruddas that led to access to David Cameron, but the simple fact of the matter is that either John Cruddas is a deluded, arrogant individual completely out of touch with reality (and therefore should never have been in charge of the Conservative Party funds) or cash for access was prevalent. The former may well be true, but what is quite clear is that no undercover investigation would have been carried out by the Sunday Times, had there not been a suspicion that the latter was occurring.
Trade unions are the most significant donors to the Labour party…
David Cameron has published details of the party donors he has had dinner with in the last two years and the Conservative Party is quite open about the various donor clubs it runs. For an annual membership of £50,000 a Private individual can join The Leaders’ Group, where “members 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”.
While political party donations can reflect a belief in a particular ideology and a desire for the success of that party, there is no doubt that money gives access, in the form of any of the aforementioned social occasions. It is not just an issue concerning the Tories. Trade unions are the most significant donors to the Labour party and therefore must be appeased.
…a budget that diminished the 50p tax band to 45p…
David Cameron reacts well in crises and it may be that this issue gets brushed under the carpet as all the major political parties realise that persistence may expose irregularities in their own donations. But what is clear is that just like the regular appeasement of Rupert Murdoch showed, political power does not rest with the politicians, but those who fund and support them.
To close, there is an air of Freudian irony that in the week that the cash for access scandal was exposed, the Chancellor announced a budget that diminished the 50p tax band to 45p, a move that would surely be desirable for those with the cash to spend on a £50,000 a year membership to the Tory Leaders’ Group.
Image Courtesy of Jim Millen