First it was cosy “kitchen suppers” for donors in Downing Street. Now in their search for cash to win the next election the Tories are going one stage further: they are selling access to David Cameron’s bedroom.
For just £1,750 companies are being offered the chance to “room drop” David Cameron and other cabinet ministers at this year’s Conservative Party Conference.
Every day during the conference companies or lobbying firms will be able to pay to have their “message or promotional item” placed on the bed of the 350 most senior Tories staying in the official conference hotel. They can also pay to get messages printed on the Tories’ key cards.
There appears to be no limits or restrictions on the gifts or messages they supply – and as party conferences don’t count as official government occasions there will be no need to declare the lobbying.
The innovative fundraising idea is one of many contained in an official Conservative Party sales document which has been distributed to potential sponsors ahead of this year’s annual meeting in Manchester.
Among other offers is access to the official VIP lounge where “the Cabinet, Government Ministers and senior Party Officials” go to “relax or grab a quick snack”. For £20,000 plus VAT company executives or lobbyists can buy “access to lounge” with “complimentary passes”. They can also brand the lounge with their logo.
Companies who pay to have a stall at the conference are guaranteed pictures with cabinet ministers that are taken by the party and then given to them on a CD. As the disclosure rules covering the lobbying of ministers have tightened up in recent years, the attraction of party conferences as an opportunity to get discreet access to power has increased. Last year just 38 per cent of those who attended the Conservative conference were actually members – slightly more than the 36 per cent who were described as “Commercial/Charity/Exhibitors”.
And in a wonderful example of chutzpah the Tories are even selling access to the people who have done most to expose the influence of lobbying on politicians: journalists.
One package available to companies is “media zone sponsorship”. For £15,000 this gives sponsors access to the media zone where journalists work with branding in the panels above their heads. In recent years the major party conferences have turned into big money-making operations. Each party aims to raise at least £1m from the event through sponsorships, attendance fees and even a cut of bar sales.
And the Tories are not alone in offering cash-for-access to their most senior figures. The Liberal Democrats are selling poster spots in the conference washrooms for £1,000 for 10 sites, while £10,000 will buy your name on the lanyards that every delegate must wear around their necks.
Labour are also selling access to Ed Miliband at their “conference dinner”. “With an atmosphere that is invariably electric, following the Leader’s Speech earlier in the day, the Dinner is our flagship evening event of Conference,” the literature gushes. “With Ed Miliband joining us as guest of honour, and several Shadow Cabinet members in attendance, it really is an unmissable event.”
The former MP and anti-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell, said he was depressed by what political parties were doing to raise money. “It just gets worse by the year,” he said. “I accept that political parties have to offset the costs of their conference somehow. But this is quite simply cash for access and it stinks.”
Sponsor-a-delegate: Conference menu
£20,000 Sponsor the “blue room” – the official VIP area of the conference. Companies are encouraged to “be a part of this exciting area which will give you access, as a sponsor. With the BLUE ROOM, we are looking at one lounge area where all high-profile guests can network, relax, hold briefings, catch-up on some work or grab a quick snack or drink between the conference sessions and other events.”
£15,000 Sponsor the parliamentary lounge where “all MPs, MSPs and Peers can relax, use business services during the day”. The package includes access to the lounge and complimentary passes. Branding on the exclusive Pass issued to all those who have access, branding within the lounge area.
£8,000 Put your company’s name on the lanyards that every delegate has to wear around their necks. “All attendees must have their conference passes visible and wear the official conference lanyard,” the Tories say. “If you look at all the media footage the one thing you will always spot is the conference lanyard.”
£3,000 Get your name on the key-card holder that is issued to all guests staying at the Conference Hotel. These include, the Tories say “Cabinet members, Senior Party, Media, International and Corporate attendees”.