, LONDON, Mar 26 – Britain’s David Cameron admitted on Monday to hosting donors to his Conservative party at his official residence, the day after a top party official quit for trying to sell access to the premier.
In an abrupt U-turn Cameron published details of three dinners with wealthy supporters since taking office in 2010, but also sought to quell the row with a promise to work towards long-stalled reforms of party funding.
Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas was forced to resign on Sunday after being filmed offering potential donors private dinners with Cameron for £250,000 ($396,000, 299,000 euros) and an opportunity to shape government policy.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband demanded a full independent investigation into the “very disturbing revelations” and full disclosure of all meetings with donors.
Hours after a senior Tory minister said such a disclosure was “unreasonable” and just minutes after a Downing Street spokeswoman said they were private meetings, the prime minister changed tack.
“There have been three occasions on which significant donors have come to dinner in my flat,” Cameron said, interrupting a pre-planned televised speech on funding for dementia to deal with the issue.
He said none of the dinners had been fundraising events and they had largely involved old friends, adding: “Peter Cruddas has never recommended anyone to come to dinner in my flat, nor has he been to dinner there myself.”
Cameron also promised to publish all such future dinners, compile a register of major Tory donors who attend party fundraising events, and draw up new guidance for ministers on lobbying.
The prime minister repeated that Cruddas’ comments, filmed by undercover reporters, were “completely unacceptable and wrong” and insisted that they did not result in any money changing hands.
“However to avoid any perception of undue influence from now on we will on put in place new procedures” for ministers concerned about lobbying, he said.
The prime minister added that the row had proved there was “an urgent need for party funding reform in this country” and invited the opposition Labour party to restart talks on the issue.
Senior Tory minister Francis Maude was due to make a statement to parliament later Monday on the reforms, after years of disagreement between his party, which relies on individual donations, and trade-union funded Labour.
Cruddas resigned early Sunday following the publication of the footage shot by undercover reporters for the Sunday Times newspaper, although he said his comments were “bluster” and insisted money could not buy access to ministers.
Miliband said the row involved “very disturbing revelations about the way that access was sought, the way that access was bought or apparently at least offered, and that’s why we need a proper investigation into what happened.”
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sunday Times whose frequent meetings with successive British prime ministers have also come under scrutiny, weighed in on Twitter, backing an independent probe and asking: “What was Cameron thinking?”
Concerns over lobbying in British politics are not new but the timing of the latest row is particularly damaging for the Conservatives as they battle claims of pandering to the rich after cutting the top rate of income tax in last week’s budget.
Their junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, condemned Cruddas’ comments and backed calls for a reform of party funding.
On their website, the Tories openly offer wealthy backers the chance to attend dinners and events with Cameron for donations of £50,000 a year.
But Cruddas appeared to go further, discussing different sized donations and describing £250,000 as a “premier league” sum that would guarantee access to Cameron, finance minister George Osborne and other Tory ministers.
He also appeared to discuss how the undercover reporters might circumvent election law banning donations from overseas.
Scotland Yard said police were looking into the matter after a complaint was lodged.