One of my photos

Look who’s coming to dinner

February 6th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 5 Comments · Politics

After the MP Expenses furore, the home-flipping and the multitude of jobs on the side and other outside interests, the new area to come under scrutiny is the hiring of Westminster facilities and whether they are sometimes hired for fundraising activities.  I’m not sure this one has got legs, I can’t really see it grabbing the public’s attention the way expenses did.  There was no great public reaction to the matter of 2nd jobs (and 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.) which is much more interesting, so this is unlikely to be over all the front pages.

So far the only vaguely intertesting ‘revelation’ is that David Cameron hosted an event for freemasons.Never mind.  The Guardian is still pushing it as another opportunity for crowdsourcing, hoping something will come out of it.  I think they are still put out that the Telegraph got all the attention for the expenses business and are making sure that they jump on everything that comes along now.  They do publish a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet of all the bookings so you can look up your own MP for amusement, but I suspect that, even if they do find anything wrong or illegal it would not have the impact of expenses as the wrongness would be a technicality that needs to be explained first.

With expenses the media were pushing at an open door as many people get outraged by the totally legitimate and necessary office expenses, expecting MPs to fund an office and several staff out of their own pockets, so provoking comment with tales of duck islands and moat cleaning was never going to be difficult.

Anyway, I did have a look at the Google doc to see what Francis Maude has been up to.  He hired Commons facilities about thirty times in the period covered by the report, and most of the bookings look entirely innocent, like hosting functions for Novartis (a local employer) or the all-party parliamentary governance group (whatever that is).

Other bookings are more suspect, but I think I saw somewhere that the rules changed in 2007 so that before then a booking that was intended to raise funds for political parties was not explicitly against the rules.  Even so, looking through them is a bit of an eye-opener, revealing the existance of all sorts of organisations that are working to fund and support the Tories but are largely going un-noticed.

A few examples:

May 7th 2004, The Winston Churchill Fifty Dining Club

This was a dinner for 35 people.  The Winston Churchill 50 Dining Club is an organisation that raises money for the Tories to fight the three Brighton and Hove seats.  That is according to Daniel Hannan, a past chair of the club.  In a Telegraph blog a few months ago he said:

From Prague to Brighton for a dinner of the Sir Winston Churchill 50 Dining Club, which raises oodles of money from all over Sussex for the three Brighton and Hove seats.

So Maude was hosting an event for a group whose purpose is to raise ‘oodles of cash’ for the Tories.  Perhaps that was all allowed then, or not explicitly not allowed, or whatever.  Interesting though.  I wonder how much they raised that day?

23rd November 2006, Horsham Parliamentary Dining Club

This was a dinner for 34 people.  The organisation is a familiar name from the Register of Members’ Interests, where Maude says:

In 2008 the Horsham and Crawley Conservative Association received donations from the Horsham Parliamentary Dining Club of which I am chairman.

Of course, the money they raised and donated may not have come from that dinner, but I can’t see that they have any other purpose.

14th March 2007, Conservatives Abroad Reception

This was a reception for 145 people in the Terrace Pavilion.  No suggestion that the event was a fund-raiser, I just find the whole idea of the organisation to be a bit suspect.  Looking through a few of their websites I came across this report of one of their conferences, containing this line:

The presentations were completed by an excellent powerpoint presentation by Alistair Kinloch from Sydney, proposing a method of vote harvesting and inspiring further debate.

“Vote harvesting”?  Not sure exactly what that entails, but it sounds a bit sinister to me, as does the organisation itself.  Under our current electoral system the entire outcome of a general election can be decided by a few thousand votes if they are in the right place, so having a pool of a few hundred thousand overseas voters all committed to one side could easily sway the outcome.  It does highlight the fundamental iniquity of first-past-the-post.

6th November 2009, Premier Members

It is not clear exactly what this is, but if you look at Sussex Enterprise’s website and explore a bit you will find that they have something called Premier Membership and can even find a brochure which boasts “Access, Influence, Opportunity” and says “at our most recent lunch we were joined by Francis Maude MP”, so it looks like the November booking relates to them.  Strange wording though, he did not join them at their lunch but hosted it.

They are not exactly saying that you can buy access to MPs but the suggestion is there.  Just to be clear: there is no suggestion by me at all that the MP receives anything in return for allowing this access.

It all looks like a bit of a con really.  Wouldn’t you expect any MP to be willing to see any employer in their constituency anyway?  Why bother paying?

So there it is. Nothing likely to catch the headlines in Maude’s local paper unfortunately, no matter how dodgy some of the bokoings may appear to some of us.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Ash

    “Just to be clear: there is no suggestion by me at all that the MP receives anything in return for allowing this access.”

    hah – John Denham held breakfast event for AXA & registered an interest in providing them consultancy work the next month.

  • Danivon

    Ash. Isn’t that just ‘whataboutery’?

    Are you prepared to defend your mate Frank, or just point elsewhere?

  • Ash

    Why would I defend any of them? – why dont you try condemning them? – all of them, even the Labour crooks?

  • Danivon

    Ash. So if you aren’t defending Maude, why are you pointing over yonder when his activities come up? Don’t be obtuse, man. Try to address the original post.

    I’m quite happy to condemn the three MPs who are being charged. If what you say about Denham has legs, it’s not the same as using Parliamentary rooms for fundraising, or being the subject of paid-for-privileges in terms of access, but it may well be worth condemnation. I take it you have more information?

  • Ash

    Unlike you Danivon, I recognize that they are all as crooked as each other.