'Cash for access' row as Tories ask donors to dinner

Letter hints at influence peddling, say Labour. Meanwhile, the police inquiry into peerages gets nearer to Downing Street
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Indy Politics

The Tories were accused yesterday of offering "access for cash" as it emerged that donors have been invited to an exclusive dinner to propose "ideas" for policy development.

A letter seen by The Independent on Sunday shows that George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, will hold a private dinner tomorrowwith Tory donors and is "keen" to hear their views on the development of Conservative economic policy.

The invitation, which describes George Osborne as David Cameron's "right-hand man", hints that in return for offering cash they will be able to influence policies under development by the Conservative Party.

Labour has seized on the letter as evidence that Mr Cameron is allowing rich donors to pay for political influence. "This stinks. It is not only cash for access, it is cash for influence. It is clear that despite the rhetoric, big business is still dictating Tory economic policy," said one Labour MP.

The dinner tomorrow evening, at the private Traveller's Club, will be followed by another exclusive dinner for donors with Mr Osborne on 2 May.

The revelation comes as the police inquiry into cash for honours gets closer to Downing Street. Police have requested documents relating to Tony Blair's nomination for peerages of Labour donors, who also gave substantial loans to the party.

The police are specifically examining papers relating to Downing Street's communication with the honours watchdog, which opposed the ennoblement of a number of Labour donors.

Two businessmen have asked for their secret loans to Labour to be repaid, The Sunday Times reported last night. Gordon Crawford, a computing tycoon, has asked for his £500,000 to be repaid with interest.

The Tory invitation letter reads: "As I am sure you will agree, the Conservative Party has been going from strength to strength under the leadership of David Cameron and his right-hand man, George Osborne. For this progression to continue, we will be relying on the financial support of our donor club members.

"As well as hoping for your financial support, we are very keen to hear your views and ideas for future policy development."

Yesterday the Tories insisted they had done nothing wrong.

"This is one of our long-established fundraising clubs. All donors have been publicly declared and this is just one of many ways members of the party can meet the Shadow Cabinet," said a spokesman.