The disgraced former Tory party treasurer Peter Cruddas had direct access to David Cameron on at least 13 separate occasions since he came to power, it emerged yesterday, undermining Downing Street's attempts to close down the cash-for-access scandal.
Mr Cruddas was forced to resign last week after he was secretly filmed by undercover reporters boasting he could provide access to Mr Cameron and other ministers for "premier league" donors giving £250,000 to the party.
At the time Downing Street attempted to dismiss Mr Cruddas as an inexperienced treasurer who had little access to Mr Cameron and had never had dinner in Downing Street.
But new revelations suggest his contact with Mr Cameron was much more extensive than the Prime Minister's advisors have admitted. These included being invited to a dinner on the PM's birthday at a Belgravia restaurant and serving a curry to Mr Cameron's wife, Samantha, when she was his dinner companion at a charity event at Chequers which he sponsored.
Mr Cruddas' name was not on the list released last week of Chequers visitors. However Downing Street said this was because it was a charity event attended by a large number of people, including donors to both the Labour and the Tories. "The Conservative Party never claimed it was publishing details of every occasion the Prime Minister had met with a donor and explicitly did not publish details of the Chequers charity opera event in aid of Mencap and other smaller charities," it said in a statement.
But Sir Alistair Graham, the former standards commissioner, said Downing Street's attempts to conceal "systematic arrangements" for private dinners between donors and Mr Cameron posed "serious dangers for the Prime Minister". "When the Cruddas story broke he seemed very anxious to disassociate himself from what Cruddas had done," he said. "When it becomes known he hasn't told the full story, when he had ample opportunity to do so...he's really in danger of falling into the sleaze category." Labour said Mr Cameron should follow their example and publish all his meeting with donors who had given more than £7,500 to the party and Ed Miliband did on Friday.
"This drip, drip of revelations cannot be allowed to continue," said Jon Trickett Shadow Cabinet Office minister. "We need a full list of all donors met by David Cameron, not just those the Conservatives class as 'significant'."
This week Mr Cameron will attempt to put the political difficulties of the last two weeks behind him and undertake a series of regional campaign visits ahead of the local elections in May.
But Tory strategists are concerned about the effect the rows over donors, pasties and fuel strike have had on the party's standing. A poll for The Independent on Sunday found 72 per cent of the electorate said the coalition was "out of touch with ordinary people".
The poll found 71 per cent believed Chancellor George Osborne was wrong to extend VAT to hot pies and pasties while 64 per cent disagreed with the so-called "granny tax" - scrapping age-related allowances for the over-65s.
Meanwhile, a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times put the current state of the parties at 42 per cent for Labour, up two on last week, and 33 per cent for the Tories, down two from last week.