By Matthew Barrett
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Before giving a speech to launch extra NHS spending on dementia, David Cameron addressed the resignation of Conservative Party co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas, and announced the details of an internal inquiry to investigate the allegations made of donations for access to Downing Street:
"We have a robust and sensible system for raising money in the Conservative Party. All donations to the Party centrally above £7500 are declared to the Electoral Commission and must comply with UK Electoral Law. No donation is accepted before thorough compliance procedures have been gone through. But as I said yesterday, in the light of these events, I have ordered a full Party inquiry. This will be led by the Conservative peer Lord Gold, a distinguished lawyer and a former senior partner at Herbert Smith."
The Prime Minister then said that there have been three times when "significant donors" have had dinner at Downing Street:
"In the two years I have been Prime Minister, there have been three occasions on which significant donors have come to dinner in my flat. In addition there was a further thank you dinner, which included donors, in Downing Street itself shortly after the General Election. We will be publishing details today. None of these dinners were fund raising dinners, and none of these dinners were paid for by the taxpayer. I have known most of those attending for many years."
Downing Street has now released a list of donors who have attended meetings in the Prime Minister's flat, or elsewhere in private residences. Mr Cameron then announced he will, in future, publish details of dinners attended by any "major donors":
"I already publish details of my external meetings as Prime Minister – the first Prime Minister ever to do so. I also publish all meetings that I have with media editors and proprietors. From now on, the Conservative Party will publish details every quarter of any meals attended by any major donors, whether they take place at Downing Street, Chequers or any official residence."
Mr Cameron clarified whether any meetings with donors had influenced policy:
"On policy, let me make clear, no one in the No 10 Policy Unit has met anyone at Peter Cruddas’s request. And for the avoidance of doubt, there is no Policy Committee at No 10. However, to avoid any perception of undue influence, from now on we will put in place new procedures in which if any Ministerial contact with a party donor prompts a request for policy advice, the Minister will refer this to his or her Private Office who can seek guidance from the Permanent Secretary."
Finally, the Prime Minister made his pitch for cross-party funding reform:
"Clearly there is an urgent need for party funding reform in this country, as I have consistently argued for the last six years. No party is immune from these problems – indeed the Leader of the Labour Party has himself encountered controversy in recent days. The Government has invited Labour to re-start cross-party talks on reforming the current rules. But today I make this offer, once again, to the Labour Party: I am ready to impose a cap on individual political donations of £50,000, without any further need for state funding. But to be fair this must apply equally to trade unions as well as private citizens. We could do that tomorrow, and take the big money out of British politics once and for all."
The Prime Minister has u-turned on last night, when he said he would not release details of those donors who have attended dinners at Downing Street. His remarks also represent, as with the expenses scandal, an attempt to convert a period of bad publicity into an attack against Labour. Mr Cameron can show Labour as the roadblocks of reform, unwilling to stop accepting large union donations, while the Conservatives are willing to impose a cap.