A recent British Sunday Times article and video recording revealed that a Conservative Party co-treasurer, Peter Cruddas, has offered access to Prime Minister David Cameron in return for $400,000. In an embarrassing turn of events for the Conservative Party, Cruddas resigned as a result of the video in which he offers two undercover journalists, posing as potential party donors, access to government policy circles and even a chance to have dinner with the Camerons in return for a generous donation to the party.
At a glance the revelations seem like what Linda Loman from Death of a Salesman would call making a mountain out of a molehill. However, it reminds us that in order to be heard in the high policy circles you need to have lots of money in hand. In times of budget cuts, these findings will fuel calls for a reform into how political parties are funded, with the most popular option being to have them publicly funded by the taxpayer instead of donations by wealthy businessmen. Unfortunately, though, nothing will change.
Political cash for access scandals are hardly a shocking revelation. The Liberal Democrats were also caught in a slightly embarrassing turn of political donation-type events after facing calls to return a generous donation from multi-millionaire fraudster Michael Brown.
Labour can hardly claim the moral high ground as they have been involved in cash-related political scandals including cash for honours and cash for access where three former Cabinet Ministers were caught in a similar sting by the Sunday Times.
The prime minister has pledged to put tougher restrictions on lobbying and recommendations have included a statutory register of political lobbyists. Cameron has said he would even look into putting a cap on party funding. But of course promising to do something is completely different to actually doing it.
So what next? The issue now leaves us asking how are we going to fund political parties. Recommendations made in a report last year by the Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life included a cap on donations as well as allowing ordinary voters to fund political parties. Whilst I am not entirely against individuals making donations to political parties I would be in favor of a system where parties are publicly funded, not only will this be a first step to making sure that big money does not mean big policy influence, it could also encourage the parties to be a bit more frugal with their finances.
In an age where people have become politically disillusioned, it's not certain how the public would feel about propping up political parties, especially if it’s a party they don’t support. .
Membership to political parties has been declining, meaning that parties have to resort to other, wealthier resources.
Whilst the Lib Dems may be supportive of the reforms, Labour and the Tories will be more unwilling to implement these changes as Labour rely on Trade Unions and the Tories rely on wealthy businessmen. How the parties would fare under the campaign trail would be interesting given that the Tories spent at least $26,000 in the last general election and Labour (who spent just less than $28,700 in the 2005 election) spent less than half of that in 2010.
As Chris Wimpress writes, "taxpayers will loathe the idea of bankrolling politicians even more than they do already." On the other hand maybe taxpayers would be more willing to prop up parties if it is going to lead to a cleaner political system.
But we all know that saying you will pursue reform is one thing, actually implementing it is another thing entirely as BBC political editor James Landale has pointed out: "The coalition agreement promised that the government would pursue reform. But it did not promise to achieve it."
The Peter Cruddas affair will probably continue to fuel flames for a week but like many other scandals before it, it will be confined to the back shelf until another political scandal resurrects it.