Lib Dems win out as Tories shelf the Beecroft report to avoid accusations of "cash-for-policy"
With the awkward "cash-for-policy" questions that would have arisen had Number 10 pressed for Beecroft's recommendations, the Tories decided to play the long game
And so, once again, Number 10 has been forced into an undignified u-turn, this time shelving the Beecroft report recommendations on employment red tape and no-fault dismissal.
The venture capitalist yesterday wreaked revenge on David Cameron and the ‘socialist’ Business Secretary, Vince Cable, venting his anger at the snub in the Tory papers. The abandonment of much of the Beecroft proposals to liberalise employment law is a great shame for a government bereft of any real plan for growth. Yet there is another side to the curious case of Adrian Beecroft: one that helps explain why the Tories are only too happy for an excuse to brush the whole affair under the carpet.
Beecroft is one of the main donors to the Conservative Party. Indeed he is a member of the so-called ‘premier league’ of Tory benefactors. He has given around half a million pounds to the Tories since 2006 and is one of the party’s key financial assets. It was following these donations – not to mention several meetings with the Prime Minister and, most significantly, his self-exiled strategy guru Steve Hilton – that Beecroft was commissioned by Number 10 to produce his now infamous report on employment law.
When shown the proposals earlier this year Cable expressed his reservations, in particular over no-fault dismissal, but was overruled by Downing Street. Since the Peter Cruddas cash-for-access sting, this is the clearest example yet of a donation being made, the donor being given access to David Cameron and other top Tories, and then awarded influence over policy. There is no smoking gun that proves Beecroft actually bought policy from the government, but to say that it looks bad for Dave and co. would be an understatement.
As yet, the cash-for-policy line has merely lurked in the background for the Conservatives. Guido Fawkes and Political Scrapbook ran the story, though it has received only fleeting attention in the press over recent days. Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary, planned to ask an Urgent Question on the subject back in March but it was spiked by Ed Miliband’s aide Tom Baldwin in a somewhat unfortunate own-goal.
Beecroft is well-liked throughout his party; his popularity has seen a clamour among senior figures to protect him. The Tories have so far survived a potential scandal over their friend-with-benefits; dropping his proposals is a small price to pay for it coming back to bite them in the future.
Languishing in the polls with a miserable economic record and a desperate need for policies promoting growth, you have to question why the Conservatives haven’t put up more of a fight over the Beecroft report. In the battle between the donor and the Lib Dems, Clegg’s men have won a decisive victory. A sound series of ideas that could have provided a boost to British business have been lost as a result.
Yet with the awkward cash-for-policy questions that would have come had Number 10 pressed the issue, perhaps the Tories are playing the long game. The curious case of Adrian Beecroft is one that may never see the light of day.
Alexander Wickham is a freelance journalist and blogger who writes for The Independent, amongst others. He tweets at @Wickham_A
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