The fact that all prime ministers move into Number 10 on taking office is not some peculiar quirk of the Westminster property market, and ought to offer some indication at least that leading a country is one of the few jobs where your private life is a public matter.
It looks like the latest cash-for-access scandal will be dominating headlines for a while to come. After initially resisting public pressure to publish his ‘private’ meetings with Tory donors and ‘personal’ friends, it’s good to see that the PM changed his mind a few hours later.
Despite Cruddas’s boast that large cash payments could secure a dinner with the PM and the opportunity to raise concerns with the policy committee at Downing Street, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said this morning demands for a list of Downing Street dinner guests were ‘unreasonable’.
Maude’s argument on the Today programme a few hours' ago was that the PM should not have to disclose meetings with ‘personal friends’ in his ‘private residence’ which ‘happens to be in Downing Street’. But Cameron’s private residence doesn’t just happen to be in Downing Street. His postcode isn’t some bizarre coincidence. The fact that all prime ministers move into Number 10 on taking office is not some peculiar quirk of the Westminster property market, and ought to offer some indication at least that leading a country is one of the few jobs where your private life is a public matter. It seems, thankfully, that Maude’s extremely shaky defence of the PM helped provoke a u-turn.
Personal friends of the prime minster, whether they are genuine old school pals or more recent chums who have paid a fortune to sit around the Camerons’ kitchen table, enjoy incredible access and influence. It would be unrealistic to expect Cameron to cut off all of his friendships, old and new, like some incorruptible robot, but it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to publish his evening engagements, so that government policy decisions can be properly scrutinised. The public doesn’t require word-for-word transcripts of every single Downing Street drinks party: a list of invitees would suffice, and isn’t too much to ask.
Cameron, I should add, has a fine record when it comes to his publicly significant personal friendships. When he leaves office, he can rejoice in resuming private meetings with Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson & Co. Then they will be able to pass secret, sunny afternoons at boozy lunches reminiscing about just how stressful it was running the country together, and the public would no longer have a right to know. But until then, and with the unique exception of what goes on in the Number 10 master bedroom (and then, let us all hope that Sam Cam doesn’t pull a Cherie on us), Cameron’s assumption of public office has precluded some of his right to a private life.
This might sound like a dangerous demand — I know that many Spear’s readers value their privacy above all — but remember that the job of PM is an exceptional one. And that transparency is a vital component of democracy.
Cameron himself understands this — does anyone remember his passionate attack on corporate lobbying, and his promise to shine the ‘light of transparency’ so that ‘politics comes clean about who is buying power and influence’? If not, here’s a little reminder. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
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