Five mistakes Cameron has made over the ‘cash for access’ story

Written by Failing to learn from the Fox/Werritty scandal. on 26 March 2012 in Diary
The Sunday Times scoop on David Cameron’s meetings with Tory donors was a terrible story for the PM, but No 10 haven’t handled it well

After his defence secretary resigned over his ‘blurred’ relationship with a former aide and defence lobbyist, the PM renewed his commitment to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, but didn’t seize the opportunity to implement greater ministerial transparency.

Following, rather than leading, the sequence of events.

At the height of the phone hacking scandal, there were calls for ministers to publish their meetings with the media, which No 10 proceeded to do. It would have been a smart move at that juncture to publish meetings with other individuals – such as party donors – so as to take the sting out of this story and be seen to be leading the agenda on transparency, rather than just responding to a series of crises.

If you’re going to u-turn, do it straight away.

Once the Sunday Times had broken their story, the only thing left for No 10 to do to kill it was to publish a full list of Cameron’s meetings with donors. Yesterday, Downing Street said they wouldn’t be publishing the names of Tory donors who have dined at No 10. Now that they’ve changed their mind, providing an incomplete list to journalists just fuels the frenzy. (Although, as my editor has just pointed out, the reason the complete list has yet to emerge is probably because it is being hastily vetted for further potential outrages.) Arguing that the No 10 flat is Cameron’s ‘private residence’ and therefore meetings that take place there are ‘private’, isn’t going to wash for long.

Not taking charge of the rebuttal

Francis Maude will be making an oral statement to the Commons this afternoon on party funding. LabourList’s Mark Ferguson reports that it will most likely be Ed Miliband who responds for the opposition, not Maude’s shadow, Jon Trickett. By sending Maude out to bat for him (first on the Today programme this morning, and then in Parliament), Cameron is giving Miliband the chance to stand centre-stage and portray the PM as hiding from the issue.

Not appointing a truly independent investigator

Labour have led the calls for an independent inquiry into this matter. Once the story gained such momentum, it was clear that it couldn’t be led by the Conservative co-chairman Andrew Feldman. The choice of Lord Gold, a Conservative life peer elevated to the House of Lords under Cameron’s government, to conduct the investigation doesn’t give an entirely independent appearance to it.

Tags: Adam Werritty, Cash for access, David Cameron, Lobbying

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