The happiest news for David Cameron this morning is that the
‘cash for access’ story hasn’t quite made it onto every front page. But that’s it,
really, so far as the glad tidings are concerned. All the rest is poison for No.10. The Prime Minister is now fighting off calls — including from his own MPs — to release the names of those donors who enjoyed dinner at his Downing Street flat. Labour are, of course, pressing for him
to go further than an internal party inquiry, and launch an independent investigation instead. Today’s furore is not going to simmer down after a few days, or even after a few weeks.
In several respects, all this is trickier for Cameron than, say, the expenses scandal. Not only does it reinforce the persistent idea that the Tories are a party of, for and by the rich (and only
days after they announced the demise of the 50p rate, too), but it also puts the Tory leader on the spot in way that he never has been before. Back when all of Parliament’s expenses were the
concern, Cameron managed to rise above it; imposing transparency on his frontbenchers and encouraging it from his backbenchers. Now, ‘rising above it’ will prove more difficult when
‘it’ revolves around dinners in the prime ministerial flat. Indeed, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether any disgruntled Tory backbenchers take this opportunity to put the boot
into their leader.
This is one reason why No.10 will be particularly eager to dilute this story. They have always regarded Cameron as perhaps their best electoral asset. If he is tarnished, goes the thinking, then so
are the Tories’ electoral chances. But what will they do? Complete and immediate transparency doesn’t appear to be their answer here, on the grounds of donor privacy. So I imagine they’ll try to
bring about a more general overhaul of party donations as soon as possible. And if that also exposes Labour and their union backers, then so be it.