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UK party official quits over donations row

AAP, 25 March 2012

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold an inquiry after an aide was caught offering access to the leader in return for donations to his Conservative Party.

Peter Cruddas, co-treasurer of the party, resigned today after his claims that he could secure access to Cameron, the leader's policy unit and other top ministers were exposed by undercover reporters working for The Sunday Times.

Cruddas was filmed boasting that he could arrange private meetings with Cameron for those prepared to offer the party donations of £250,000 ($380,000) a year.

He also told the paper that Cameron hosted major donors at receptions at Downing Street and at Highclere Castle, the location used in British TV drama Downtown Abbey.

"What happened is completely unacceptable. This is not the way that we raise money in the Conservative Party. It shouldn't have happened," Cameron told BBC TV today.

"It's quite right that Peter Cruddas has resigned. I will make sure there is a proper party inquiry to make sure this can't happen again."

Cruddas was filmed telling the reporters that those prepared to donate the £250,000 could press Cameron in person over their interests and would have their views "fed in" to the leader's policy unit.

Opposition leader David Miliband, a former foreign secretary, said the case raised serious questions about the influence party donors have on government policy. "The idea that policy is for sale is grotesque," he said.

The Tories said Cruddas had only taken up his role earlier this month, and insisted no donations had been accepted as a result of his claims.

"All donations to the Conservative Party have to comply with the requirements of electoral law. These are strictly enforced by our compliance department," the party said in a statement.

Cruddas acknowledged e had not been authorised to offer to arrange meetings with Cameron or other senior figures.

"I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster in that conversation," Cruddas said.

"Clearly there is no question of donors being able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians.

"Specifically, it was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation."

The Tories said Cruddas would be replaced by Stanley Fink, a member of the House of Lords who had previously held the role.

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