Leaders: Access is not for sale, no matter who happens to pay for supper

David Cameron faces a sweat over supper-gate. Picture: Ian Rutherford
David Cameron faces a sweat over supper-gate. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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WHEN will they ever learn? On the evidence of the latest developments in what we will call supper- not dinner-gate (the Prime Minister went to Eton, after all), when it comes to raising money for political parties, the answer is never.

In the aftermath of the resignation of Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas, caught telling donors they might expect supper in Downing Street if they paid enough to the party, David Cameron’s office refused to name the recipients of such treats. Under pressure they caved in yesterday and issued a list of “significant donors” who were invited to three suppers and a drinks party in the Prime Minister’s private flat in Downing Street.

For someone who studied “New Labour” in such detail, Mr Cameron’s U-turn shows he had not paid enough attention to the problems Tony Blair’s government suffered over cash for access. Mr Blair’s former spin-doctor Alastair Campbell has said the harm done by donations such as the £1 million given by F1 motor racing tycoon Bernie Ecclestone to Labour was exacerbated by the facts being dragged out of the then government.

However, this issue goes wider than the publication of a list of who had supper with whom. The appointment of Mr Cruddas, a self-made multi- millionaire who made his money on spread betting, by Mr Cameron was unwise. Anyone charged with raising money for a political party, particularly one in government, should be of the utmost probity. Mr Cruddas failed that test, casting doubt on the Prime Minister’s judgment.

Finally, there is the issue of standards in public life. Mr Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry to examine ethics in the press and it could be the Sunday Times, which exposed Mr Cruddas’s behaviour, will be investigated to see if it had evidence of wrong-doing which it would be in the public interest to expose. It would be ironic if journalists were found wanting after exposing such behaviour. Mr Cameron should therefore consider this before he takes the moral high ground on ethics and transparency. It would be a further irony if there were no movement on the standards we expect of politicians and those, like Mr Cruddas, serving them. Civil servants are already bound by a code which says they must act with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. The same publicly regulated standards should apply to all who serve them, even party officials.

At the heart of this affair there is a serious problem for political parties. They need money to run expensive campaigns. People who give large sums of money tend to be those who do not hand over cash without expecting something in return.

There are people who simply believe in the party cause – the lottery winners who have given £1m to the SNP, for example – but they are few and far between. If we are to avoid public funding of parties, which voters will resist, there must be a clear understanding that access is not for sale.

Tanker drivers need to negotiate, not strike

It IS industrial action aimed at hitting the public where it hurts and when it hurts most. Petrol tanker drivers who supply most of the filling station forecourts across Britain are poised to stop work over Easter, when many people will be trying to get away for a break.

According to the Unite union, which has co-ordinated the ballot across a number of companies, the action has not been prompted by concerns over pay, but by what it says are “corners being cut” on safety and training, and a decision to swap final salary pension schemes for “inferior” money purchase schemes.

Let us deal with the second point first. It is an unfortunate fact of modern life that most private companies have closed final salary pension schemes. They were simply too expensive to be continued, though that is understandably difficult for employees. If this is the root cause of the strike, then the union should tell its members to accept reality.

If the union’s concerns about safety and training are valid, then they should be addressed. Tanker drivers carry a highly flammable liquid, which has to be properly looked after for all our sakes. However, it is doubtful if strikes rather than detailed negotiations with employers are the way to resolve this problem.

UK Energy Secretary Edward Davey last night said a strike would be the “wrong action” at the “wrong time” and called for Unite to get round the negotiating table, not to disrupt the lives of millions of people across Britain. Mr Davey is right. The union should listen to his advice. Jaw, jaw is better than the war, war of strike action.

Pray panda’s op won’t delay patter of tiny paws

It WAS, the zoo’s vets maintain, just a routine operation to see if they can do anything about their star turn’s bad bouts of colic. It may well have been just that, but the medical investigations under general anaesthetic which panda Yang Guang underwent has left a scar for all to see.

We must hope the ultrasound scan of the kind given to pregnant women, the blood tests and an endoscopy – a necessary intrusion, we are told, in order to get a clear picture of any, ahem, internal problems – have not left Yang Guang with mental rather than physical scars.

For he has a very important duty to perform in the next few days. His female companion (should we call her his partner in modern terminology?) Tian Tian is understood to be displaying signs of coming into heat, which female pandas do only once a year. The hopes of Edinburgh Zoo, the public and the politicians who claimed to have a part in the panda diplomacy of bringing the animals here from China are riding on Yang Guang.

He has, it is said, been eating about twice his usual quantity of bamboo, which could signal he is bulking up for the breeding season. But if we want to hear the patter of tiny panda feet soon, we hope Yang Guang has recovered from his operation ordeal. No pressure of course, but Scotland expects.