Thieves Fall Out

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Only five days after George Osborne's Budget handed money back to rich top-rate taxpayers, the Sunday Times published a video showing Tory Treasurer Peter Cruddas promising undercover reporters "premier league access" to David Cameron in return for donations of £250,000.

Within 24 hours Cruddas had resigned and Cameron was being pressured to release details of which particular donors he had wined and dined at Downing Street. A day later, Cameron was forced to reveal a list of "significant donors".

Of course, the irony is that anyone actually wanting to read the Sunday Times article would have to pay to get past their website's online pay wall. It seems Murdoch isn't always against cash for access.

The political crisis unleashed by the Sunday Times story could not have come at a worse time for the Tories. In the same week the Independent ran on its front page a poll suggesting two out of three voters thought the Tories were "the party of the rich". Labour consequently reached a ten-point lead (their highest in seven years), according to a ComRes poll.

But the question left unanswered in much of the media coverage was why the Sunday Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, had let loose such a vicious attack on the party it is usually so quick to defend.

Would such a story have been pursued without Murdoch's say so? The fact that wealthy donors are regularly invited to dine with senior ministers, including David Cameron, has been publicly advertised and known to journalists for some time, even if the offer of more intimate Downing Street suppers and policy influence implicit in Cruddas's bluster were not. After a year of media scrutiny, Murdoch may have picked his moment to remind the Tories that he still matters.

Over the past year Cameron has time and again been forced to distance himself from various members of the "Chipping Norton set" - both human and equine. In July last year he announced that the Leveson Inquiry would investigate phone hacking and illicit payments to the police. In a speech to parliament he said the inquiry would be "one that is as robust as possible". A month later Cameron reneged on a previous statement and said he regretted ever hiring Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, as his communications director.

It was hard to miss the irony as Murdoch gleefully tweeted after the Sunday Times exposé: "Of course there must be a full independent inquiry on both sides. In great detail, and with consequences. Trust must be established." The Sun led the calls for a public inquiry in its editorial the next day.

The political repercussions of the scandal will be important. Following the resignation of James Murdoch as chairman of News International on the 29 February, and the re-arrest of Rebecca Brooks on 13 March, it is clear that Murdoch will not have meted out all the revenge he would have liked to. Fresh talk of hacking in NDS (a sector of News Corp) underlined the fact that Murdoch's troubles are far from over.

But in a week where the Tories faced outrage over a millionaires' Budget, the hollowness of "caring conservatism" that Cameron once purported to represent, was exposed in the crudest way by the Sunday Times' revelations.

Such infighting in the ruling class brings home even more the impact that national strike action in defence of pensions could have had, and the urgency of getting the unions back in the fight.