Leaders: Slippery subject of political donation now stalks Mr Cameron

David Cameron building up a sweat during a Sport Relief event
David Cameron building up a sweat during a Sport Relief event
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MOST people, especially Scots, enjoyed a weekend of unexpected and indeed record warmth. But for David Cameron, the political weather has turned decidedly chilly.

The Prime Minister was forced to condemn one of his party treasurers, Peter Cruddas, who was filmed boasting to undercover reporters – who he believed were wealth fund executives interested in making a large donation to the Conservative Party – that a gift of £250,000 would put them into a premier league which had easy access to Mr Cameron and other senior ministers such as George Osborne.

This could hardly have come at a worse time. Mr Osborne had delivered a budget last week which appeared at first sight to perform the not inconsiderable feat of modestly stimulating growth while keeping public spending reined in. It still may do that, but attention switched almost immediately to the political charge that the Conservatives were more interested in helping millionaires through the top rate tax cut from 50p to 45p than they were in helping relatively poor elderly people whose tax allowances were frozen and therefore cut in real terms.

Opposition charges that the Tories were taxing grannies but giving hand-outs to millionaires seem to have been enough, according to one UK opinion poll, to have already reversed the Conservative lead over Labour. Now has come this major story about political donations which can surely only serve to confirm popular opinion that the Tories are really only interested in people with lots of money.

Such accusations from political opponents are, however, scented with more than a whiff of political hypocrisy. All parties have had to answer awkward questions about how much cash buys what access and to whom. All parties have had to explain gifts from people who have turned out to be dubious characters and perhaps may be based abroad, paying little in the way of UK taxes and possibly not even registered to vote.

This is of little assistance or comfort to Mr Cameron. He is the man in power and the one who is supposed to set an example of probity to the nation. That Mr Cruddas has swiftly resigned will not draw a line under this episode, either. Opponents will seek answers to a host of questions. Demanding to know how much influence this or that donor has had over government policy is a game with almost infinite variations.

Much has been done to clean up the system of political donations ever since Tony Blair became embroiled in questions of influence after it became known that Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of Formula One racing, had made a donation to Labour and wanted his sport exempted from the ban on tobacco advertising at sporting events.

The identity of people giving more than £5,000 in any year now has to be disclosed and donations by foreigners are disallowed. But it still does not seem to be enough. Short of switching to a system of state funding, which taxpayers are unlikely to support, financing parties by private donation seems likely to continue. Openness and transparency is the only available disinfectant. Mr Cameron, and indeed all party leaders, need to be seen to be applying it with renewed zeal.

Now we can all decide if Megrahi got justice

Finally, after five years of dribbles of information, rumour and the creation of many conspiracy theories, the complete report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission into the handling of the case against convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been published.

Its publication is not due to the anxiety of public and legal officials to inform popular opinion, but to the diligence of a Sunday newspaper. Now the whole report, and not just selectively leaked extracts, can be read by anyone.

This is important, not least to the relatives of the people murdered that dark night in the skies above, and within the town of, Lockerbie. Now, instead of the anguish that has been caused by occasional leaks which inevitably have focused on alleged deficiencies of the prosecution case, they can see the full range and detail of the entire case.

It does appear that there were holes in the prosecution argument. These were enough for the commission to decide, not that there had been a miscarriage of justice, but that there might have been. And crucially, for the first time, people can now read about the shortcomings of the defence case, not the least of which is that Mr al-Megrahi persistently changed his story.

Only a court can decide whether the conviction should be overturned or not. But since Mr al-Megrahi abandoned his appeal, that is unlikely ever to happen.

Statistics-producing industry good for your wealth

Statistics often tell interesting stories. Residents of Aberdeen may be surprised to learn that their city’s economy continued to grow during the recession, according to an analysis of figures on local wealth production carried out by a firm of accountants. Or perhaps they may not be, given that Aberdeen bobs cheerfully on the profits of the oil industry, while almost all other places suffered the aftermath of the financial crisis.

But Edinburgh’s citizens will almost certainly be astonished to know that the capital became wealthier, measured on wealth created per individual, than London during 2009. Edinburgh, after all, endured the humiliation of seeing its major banks collapse and then nationalised.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the finding that Glasgow, during 2009, was among the five wealthiest British cities. Tell that to people in Easterhouse or Drumchapel and locals may want to know what you’ve been drinking.

The answer to these oddities may be that the figures measure wealth created at the workplace, not by the residence of the workforce which, in most cities, is beyond urban boundaries. And for those cities that don’t feature at the top of this particular table, the answer may be to develop a statistics-producing industry. There are clearly headlines and maybe money in it.