Not a dinner party – more a donor party
Ah, so not exactly dinners for friends that happened to include donors. More like dinners for donors who’ve given a big sum.
There were three of these in the flat (who knows how many more there would have been without the Sunday Times story), designed to reward big donors for funding the party. David Cameron said they were “not fund-raising dinners”…
Well, it’s hard not to see them as part of the fund-raising process. There was one full-scale dinner in No. 10 formal rooms. which looks like a much more fund-raising “thank you” dinner – with the combined donations and wealth from that guest list I’m surprised the dining room floor didn’t give way.
But when you look down the flat dinners list, it’s not a perfect crossover between the most recent, biggest donations and a hot plate of fish pie – not the automaticity that would put booster rockets under the story. The PM’s aides say there’s nothing wrong with the whole idea and that they may well continue to have them, just with more openness about who comes along.
I wonder what the Alzheimer’s Society dementia forum thought of David Cameron using their event to mount his fightback on party funding. I think he felt uncomfortable himself shoe-horning the party funding defence into a speech here in Bloomsbury and that (am I being ridiculously generous?) might be why he took no questions from journalists who’d been told he’d be happy to answer queries from them after the speech.
I’ve been chatting to a donor who attended one of the dinner parties at the Downing Street flat. He said it was a “typical English dinner party” in that everything – “God, the world” – was discussed and “nothing in depth.”
“Everything was touched on the surface … Samantha chipped in… We moaned about this, that and the other… A big theme was Libya” but it would’ve been “bad manners” to go too much into any one subject and nobody did. “Children and schools” were amongst the topics.
The donor said he thought he’d been invited because the party probably thought they “had to keep me a bit happy”. He didn’t recall David Cameron doing any serving or stacking the dishwasher but he remembered him being tieless and relaxed.
I also spoke to a former Conservative Party chairman this afternoon who said, on the subject of the Peter Cruddas taped sting: “That’s how it works” and “Just about every Tory MP knows that’s how it works.” Not quite on message… sadly not on camera either.
Having earlier said it wouldn’t be publishing a comparable list of donors who’ve visited Chequers, I hear that Downing Street’s decided that line isn’t sustainable and has spent the afternoon delving into records to see what can be revealed.
Catch up with Gary Gibbon’s blogs via Twitter: @GaryGibbonBlog