Well, it is never dull in London, unless you are eating English food. The weekend saw explosive revelations in the Sunday Times that Tory Party treasurer Peter Cruddas had been caught on concealed camera offering dinner with the PM and senior ministers for a quarter of a million quid.
Cruddas resigned almost immediately — once the vids were shown, he had no choice. As always in these sorts of scandals, the person captured on camera always comes across as a complete tool, leaning back in his chair and braying out a price list over his fat neck, to two reporters posing as potential donors.
The resignation suggested — for about 39 minutes — that the Tories would try and tough it out as a “rogue” fund-raiser, acting without instructions. But as questions over “dinner for donors” were fired at the PM, they realised there was little chance of keeping a lid on it.
Cameron had earlier said that what happened in the “flat above the shop” — the pitiful residence at No.10 (actually No.11) where the PM and family live. That didn’t last, not least because numerous people pointed out that the flat, a gift from George II to the first prime minister Robert Walpole ex officio, could by no means be considered private property.
So Cameron first disclosed that four dinner parties had been attended by donors over the past 18 months (the full list is here) — while opening a conference on dementia, of all things. They were hoping that it would stop there, but mid-afternoon changed their mind, and responded to repeated demands by promising to release a list of attendees at lunches at Chequers, the PM’s country residence.
The move came as Tory flunky Francis Maude went into the House to defend the party (Cameron ducked question time), quickly going into a line of attack fed from the Guido Fawkes website, whose partisanship sharply limits its usefulness as a news source in Tory scandals.
This concerned meetings that Ed Miliband had with a lobbyist (shock!) who has clients!!, and also that, in the spirit of the great Alan Moir cartoon, there was comprehensive proof linking Labour to trade unions.
It was pretty desperate stuff, and was knocked on the head by Dennis Skinner, the “Beast of Bolsover”,who asked why the PM had not turned up for question time “wasn’t there enough money on offer?” That breaches about three rules of protocol but no one cared in the laughter.
The whole thing has been a good get for two reasons. The first is that gave News International UK a much-needed win in the use of deceptive tactics for gathering a public-interest story — even given the chutzpah of a Murdoch paper breaking the shocking story of secret visits to No.10.
The added bonus is that, voter-wise, absolutely no one gives a toss.
New Labour exhausted people’s outrage glands with the cash-for-peerages scandal, and then with the all-party expenses clusterf-ck. The Tories’ disappointing 2010 victory, and their failure to gain a outright majority was a consequence of that cynicism.
Enough people wanted Labour out to actually vote for them — but no one had the slightest delusion that the Tories would be any different. There is zero capacity for people to get excited about this, and Labour’s corruption is still too fresh in the memory for them to land any effective blows (I wonder where the cash-for-peerages scheme architects are now?).
So, in many ways the perfect story, and old man Murdoch dutifully returned to Twitter — on which his initial ardour has been cooling like, well like most schmucks starting up Twitter — to crow about it. It was short-lived.
Last night Panorama, the TV current-affairs show, aired accusations that News International UK-owned software company NDS had hacked into rival ONdigital, and produced counterfeit ONdigital smart cards distributed through a hacker outlet — so that people could access the rival pay TV service for free.
NDS claims that it was merely targeting computer hackers, hence the connection with hacker groups (it’s very, very complicated). But the story is hard to swallow. If, and if is the key word, the revelations check out, it will paint News as even more sinister than previously thought — willing to illegally sabotage rivals to gain a monopoly-media space for SKY TV.
Three steps forward, four steps back for old man Murdoch (“politicians mst shw intgrity courage,no wndr pblc cynical’ ‘Wendi, buy cheese’ ‘@dontreallyknowhowthisworks’), with Leveson and phone hacking still the biggest show in town. Until the trials start.