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.