So a Conservative Party treasurer (and millionaire) got on the wrong end of a newspaper sting……..and was secretly filmed (will they ever learn?) negotiating a Premiership type donation to the Conservative Party. Apparently for £250,000 Peter Cruddas was offering dinner with David and Samantha Cameron in their Downing Street appartment. And any good ideas that Cameron hears will be discussed by a Cabinet committee.

Except of course Peter Cruddas was offering no such thing. His resignation statement two hours after his indiscretion was made public apologised for his “bluster” ……..basically he now claims that he was over-selling the degree of access and influence a millionaire donor would have.

Political Parties are notoriously financially insecure and always looking for donations. The Tories are bankrolled by donations from millionaires and big business. Labour is backed by Trade Unions. In Norn Iron we rely on small donations…..although the Alliance Party has been funded to the tune of £98,000 by Rowntree Foundation. The Foundation is advised by Quintin Oliver of Stratagem. Stratagem is a partner of Slugger O’Toole.

Curiously when raising the issue of DonorGate on Slugger, Mick Fealty fails to mention this little local funding issue.

The apology issued by Cruddas relates to the “impression” that his “bluster” might have caused. It is a non-apology. But I wonder if we can think of the issue of political funding as Objective and not get caught up in the Subjective case.

There is financial support……..access………influence…….and in the case of Fianna Fáil downright corruption.

Membership of a political party in Norn Iron costs between £20-£40 yearly. Less for the “unwaged”. Not exactly big bucks. Certainly most members of a political party will be part of fundraising activities. At the weekend I was at a fundraiser for SDLP Youth…..a table quiz. Golf Days, “Nights at the Races”, Poker Nights, Coffee Mornings are all part of the fabric of political membership.

Access? Well almost inevitably most fund raising events have a degree of access. The local MLA or possibly others will attend a local fundraiser. An photo opportunity. Post on Facebook. It is how things are.

Influence? Well we start to get into dangerous territory. I think if most members of political parties won the Lottery……they might donate a few extra pounds to their Party of choice.

Yet I think “the opportunity to meet” tactic is really a bit over-played.

Members of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce recently paid £35 to hear a “briefing” from Stephen Farry Minister for Employment & Learning. But it makes no sense that Farry would actually tell the diners something he had not already said in the Assembly Chamber, in the DEL Committee, to journalists or to his Alliance-Rowntree colleagues. Of course I cannot say this for sure because the briefing was “in camera”…..diners were forewarned that nothing said at the dinner could be reported. But I think any diner who went to the dinner hoping to hear something interesting would have been disappointed.

It was not REAL access. Rather it was an event staged to make the Chamber of Commerce members seem important. The “in camera” briefing was really just a way of making them feel conspiratorial.

Politics is a bit like Football but maybe NOT in the way that Peter Cruddas meant.

There are effectively two types of football supporter. My son and his nephew (my grandson) are on their way back from Manchester where they just watched Manchester United beat Fulham 1-0. They left Manchester at 10.30pm and as I type this more than two hours later, they are probably near the ferry port at Holyhead. A sea crossing to Dublin and they should be home in about eight hours. Football supporters……yes. But some years ago Roy Keane spoke about the “prawn sandwich” supporter…….in corporate hospitality. No doubt getting the full treatment in a private box at Old Trafford.

Really the corporate or simply well-off political supporter is more valued than the rank and file member of a Party. If I telephoned the treasurers of Norn Irons political parties tomorrow, offering £500 to the Party if I got a dinner with the Party Leader, they would be delighted. No big deal. Id be conning myself if I thought it gave me any influence. But ……the photograph would look good on Facebook.

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