Inflationary trends in “cash for access”

The Conservatives have long held business days at their conference but the price tags have risen sharply since they started charging about £1,000 a head under David Cameron.

Tories offer access to new chancellor for £3,000

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com

The Tories are selling access to the new chancellor and senior ministers ​at almost £3,000 a ticket for corporate leaders and lobbyists at their autumn conference, saying it will help firms “take your business to the next level”.

The party is advertising spaces for its “prestigious” annual business day at £2,990 a head, saying it will give attenders the chance to interact with “key decision makers in the party”.

The day involves roundtables with senior party figures, a lunch with ministers and then ends with a dinner addressed by the new chancellor, who is expected to be Kwasi Kwarteng if Liz Truss wins the Tory leadership. The dinner alone costs £400 a head to attend.

“This is your chance to hear from the Conservative party’s core team, put your questions directly to key decision makers in the party and network with other business leaders,” the party’s marketing material says.

Alongside the business day, the Tories are also selling companies the chance to exhibit at the party conference in Birmingham, which costs more than £51,000 for the biggest stands. Firms that go for that option are promised “ministerial visits from senior members of the cabinet”.

The party boasts that attending the conference gives businesses a “reach to thousands of party members, influential businesses, the senior Conservative team and more – both in-person in Birmingham, and globally online”.

The Conservatives have long held business days at their conference but the price tags have risen sharply since they started charging about £1,000 a head under David Cameron.

However, the price of the event and promise of access to ministers may reignite concerns about cash for access and ethical standards, which have arisen during the leadership of Boris Johnson.

Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, said: “Soliciting money for face time with senior government figures reinforces public concerns that cash buys privileged access and influence in our democracy.

“The way these top-tier stands are advertised as buying time with ministers may give rise to the perception that you must pay to be heard in politics. For individuals and businesses struggling with the rising cost of living, this could signal their voice is not worth being listened to.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “This event is an important opportunity to engage directly with businesses and to highlight how we continue to back business and enterprise as we build back from the pandemic and tackle the economic challenges ahead. All political parties hold business events at their conferences, and we have been holding such events at our conference for decades.”

The concerns over access could be exacerbated by Truss’s plans to ditch ethical oversight for ministers by abolishing the post of independent adviser on ministerial interests.

After being pressed on the subject of a new ethics adviser multiple times at a hustings on Tuesday, Truss said: “I do think one of the problems we have got in this country in the way we approach things is we have numerous advisers and independent bodies, and rules and regulations.

“For me it’s about understanding the difference between right and wrong, and I am somebody who has always acted with integrity […] and that is what I would do as prime minister.”

Chris Bryant, the chair of the committee on standards and a Labour MP, said he feared Truss was setting herself up as “Boris Johnson mark two” on standards and ethics.

He said the credibility of ethical oversight in politics “is already hanging by a pretty thin thread as we have seen over the past few years and it feels like she wants to cut that final thread”.

“This would take us back to a time before cash for questions. If she wants to rewrite this story as a rerun of the 1990s, we know where that ends,” Bryant said.

One thought on “Inflationary trends in “cash for access”

  1. Corruption, pure and simple, and an affront to any genuine Democracy. An utter and shameful disgrace!!!

    The UK becomes more and more like a banana republic every day.

    Like

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