Saturday, July 28, 2007

Donors Should Be Seen & Not Heard

Eighteen months ago I wrote about Stuart Wheeler after he had launched a broadside against David Cameron. In tomorrow's News of the World he is at it again. This is what I wrote in February 2006...
The Guardian is just reporting that Tory donor Stuart Wheeler has just been on 5 Live denouncing David Cameron. I didn't hear the interview myself so I will restrict myself to saying this in as kindly a manner as possible. Shouldn't political donors be seen and not heard? If they are donating money for philanthropic reasons - which the overwhelming majority are - then they normally neither expect or want anything in return. But occasionally there are those that donate money and expect the Party to then follow their policy agenda. And if the Party doesn't do so, there is a very willing media who are happy to report signs of division and disagreement. If we Tories haven't learn by now that signs of division are anathema to the electorate and will be leapt upon by our opponents, then where have we been for the last decade?

Tomorrow, Wheeler writes in the NOTW...
David Cameron needs to be tougher on Europe and give a clearer commitment to tax cuts, one of the Tory Party's leading donors said tonight. Spread betting magnate Stuart Wheeler said he still believed Mr Cameron was the one leader who could take the party to victory in the next general election. But, writing in tomorrow's edition of the News of the World, he said Mr Cameron needed to clarify the party's policies - including its commitment to a referendum on the new European Union treaty which, critics say, restores the abandoned EU constitution. "The Conservatives are right to say we must have a referendum, but it is absolutely essential that they make it clear beyond any doubt that they will call a referendum when they come to power, if this Government has ridden roughshod over the British people and ratified the treaty," he said. At the same time, he said the party needed to start talking more about tax cuts. "The Tories must make it much clearer that, though they cannot make promises, they want to cut taxes, and they must resist the false argument that that means cutting public services," he said. He also urged the Conservatives to "speak out loudly" against the US administration of President George Bush over what he said was its use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

This is the second time a so-called 'Tory Donor' has spoken out to criticise the direction of the party. The only trouble is - and I stand to be corrected - according to the Electoral Commission website neither Stuart Wheeler nor Lord Kalms have given money to the party for more than two and a half years. So why do the media describe them as Tory donors?

I yield to no one in my admiration for Stanley Kalms - I got to know him well in the Tory leadership contest - and he has a great knack of creating great media soundbites, so I can hardly blame journalists for reporting them, but we should not ignore the fact that whenever a former donor speaks out on policy it gives the impression that when they were donating they did indeed try to exert influence on policy.

During the Tory leadership contest Stuart Wheeler held a succession of lunches for all the contenders to parade their wares in front of him and a range of invited think tank wonks and journalists. To his credit, Kenneth Clarke was the only candidate to refuse the invitation. Most of the others attended through gritted teeth rather than with any degree of enthusiasm. Why is it, that just because someone has a lot of money - which they may or may not decide to donate - they should have any greater access to party leaders than anyone else?

About the only consolation from state funding - and I remain bitterly opposed to it - would be the fact that these sort of gut-wrenching beauty parades would be a thing of the past.

16 comments:

RacerDon said...

"David Cameron needs to be tougher on Europe and give a clearer commitment to tax cuts, one of the Tory Party's leading donors said tonight"

Sounds like what the majority of Conservative voters are thinking to me. IMO the problem is not supporters, or donors, saying such basic common sense statements, rather the fact that the leader of the party seems hell bent on ignoring them.

bgprior said...

How's the view from up there in cloud-cuckoo land, Iain? People who have made a fortune want to give some of it away to political parties simply out of the goodness of their heart, and not because they want to support a particular political perspective, do they? And when they make this altruistic gesture, they are then bound for eternity not to question the direction of the party that they supported, even if that party no longer represents the views that they thought they were promoting, are they?

Or perhaps it's just that freedom of speech doesn't apply to people who are foolish enough to have made money and given some of it away to politicians. The views of people who were smart enough to make a lot of money, and politically-motivated enough to get involved in the political process, are clearly more suspect or less interesting than those of other people. Why would we want to listen to them - it's the people who've never in their lives created value but now want to tell the rest of us what to do that we ought to be listening to (and not questioning). The donors should view themselves simply as trophies to be displayed by the victorious leader (and his successors) who bagged their support.

He wasn't even being "disloyal". "Spread betting magnate Stuart Wheeler said he still believed Mr Cameron was the one leader who could take the party to victory in the next general election." Shock horror. And his policy prescriptions are to say with greater firmness what Cameron has already been saying. Traitor.

I don't agree with him on some of this, but it wouldn't even cross my mind to suggest that he shouldn't be saying it. Hyper-sensitivity to criticism looks like the paranoia of the vulnerable. It's almost certainly unhelpful to Dave.

I think you may have caught something in Rwanda that's addled your brain, Iain.

Chris Paul said...

So, this sometime Tory donor Lord Kalms, not particularly linked to the current story about plain Mister Wheeler, is a member of the House of Lords on the Tory benches and makes the odd comment here and there. Wheeler has not yet clocked up enough to get ennobled but is also making the odd comment.

What is it you think Iain? That their own money should buy their own silence? This seems a very strange idea actually.

Clearly this pair gave money to the party when the agenda Mister Wheeler is suggesting WAS the Tory agenda. He backed it then, he backs it now. His position has the benefit of being consistent. Unlike Dave-id's by the look of it. Or Iain's.

But "donate and consider yourself gagged for life" is not a particularly good pitch. Controlism surely does not become libertarians in the Tory party?

Cassilis said...

I think 'bgprior' & Chris have both missed Iain's point - whether you donate £10 or £10m to a party you do so (or at least you should) on the understanding that they share your broad political outlook and have similar political instincts. When it comes to specific policies there may be disagreement but the understanding remains that you support that party ahead of their rivals.

If Mr Wheeler shares this affinity with the Conservatives then he should donate his money and trust them to get it right. If he doesn't then he shouldn't donate. To make a donation and then publicly call for a specific policy direction (yes, even the one he thought the party advocated anyway) is mischievous at best and downright stupid at worst. He must know that political opponents will make capital out of his remarks and that no possible electoral advantage for the Tories can accrue from them.

Iain isn't questioning their right to speak out - simply the wisdom of it.

bgprior said...

Iain/Cassilis, Perhaps you could help me out.

At what point does the self-imposed gagging-order on donors expire?

Which bits of what Stuart is quoted as saying do you find particularly controversial or disloyal?

What impact do you think your rules might have on Tory fund-raising if CCHQ tried to apply them to donors?

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

England needs another Hugh Caswell Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron of Bentley Priory.

not another Blair, first Baron of the Rainbow Alliance.




what IS Ken Clarke doing next month?

Bill said...
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David Smith said...

Wheeler's comments in the Screws are neither surprising or particular newsworthy - but glad to see you plugging them even before publication Iain - are you doing PR for the NoW? . If anytbing, he was more critical in the FT last week. Much more inmportant is Graham Brady's view that Cameron's main focus is a liberal, metropolitan elite based in London on The World This Weekend. Surely, more worthy of comment?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

If you make a major donation to a political party, that is a de facto serious commitment to that party. The commitment is both practical and emotional.

Hardly surprising then, that you have an opinion, and hardly surprising that someone is ready to listen, for you have put your money where your mouth is.

To expect a heavy donor to go Trappist about it is not realistic is it?

I was intrigued by Matthew Parris' piece in the Times yesterday which seemed to me to have an air of panic, in his support of Cameron and his recognition that David Davis is a powerful figure waiting in the wings. It is the kind of endorsement that is akin to saying "David Cameron is a well-spoken young man" - great if you are seeking a reference for a first Saturday job in Waterstones.

David Davis had a very bad presentational problem during the leadership election, but he has overcome that by having the time and space to be seen as a credible contender, while Cameron has been prancing from one stunt to another.

Of course, most people don't want to think this. It is a nightmare. It cannot happen because it is a catastrophic admission of dysfunction. So, you Tories havn't had your moment of decision yet - like the alcoholic who lies in the gutter vowing to give up drinking "tommorrow".

sic transit

The Magpie said...

Iain answered himself:
"To his credit, Kenneth Clarke was the only candidate to refuse the invitation"

Before asking the question:
"Why is it, that just because someone has a lot of money - which they may or may not decide to donate - they should have any greater access to party leaders than anyone else?"

...

It doesn't matter how 'reluctant' those sleaze balls attended to Mr. Moneybags, what matter is that showed they are for sale by turning up.

Geezer said...
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bgprior said...

Iain, re Magpie's comments, well done. You have allied yourself with the politics of egalitarianism and envy. That's modern Conservatism for you. I bet DD (who presumably was one of the "sleaze balls") is proud of you. Just remind me, who was advising him when he decided to accept Mr Wheeler's invitation?

jjafo said...

Surely the point is - for these people to be giving interviews to the Press, shooting their mouths off about what they think David Cameron is doing wrong is harming the Conservative Party in the eyes of the public. Whether the "majority of Conservative voters" agree isn't the point - Joe the Voter's views aren't spread all over the NOTW, are they?
If either of these men don't agree with David Cameron they are free to email the Party with their views, just like anyone else. They probably know DC well enough to ring him, if they feel that strongly. But speak in private, not public. To bang on in public like this is just helping Gordon Brown - is that what they want?

Mind, this latest Tory MP saying DC only appeals to a "narrow liberal Metropolitan elite" cannot possibly be right, because all those people already work for the BBC, and they don't seem to me to be giving Cameron a helping hand!

Sea Shanty Irish said...

Iain, in my humble experience, people donated to political parties, candidates, campaigns, etc precisely BECAUSE they want to be heard.

It's interesting, in the US you rarely see newspapers writing stories about the specific views of major individual donors, at least not as front-page news. Sure there are exceptions, but hard to think of any right now.

ONE problem that ALL UK parties seem to have is a VERY small fundraising base. Which means yer all dependent on Daddy Warbucks to fill yer war chests.

WHY not take up yet another Yankee invention . . . by emulating the likes of American politicos as varied as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama: mass fundraising.

INSTEAD of begging 100,000 pounds from 1 fatcat, get 1 pound each from 100,000 real people. Much harder lifting . . . but also much greater rewards . . . and far fewer hostages to fortune.

mutleythedog said...
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j3b said...

Iain,

If you can write this without distaste:

whenever a former donor speaks out on policy it gives the impression that when they were donating they did indeed try to exert influence on policy

then your future is as a pol, not as a commentator. You have what it takes. And God help us.