Sunday, October 08, 2006

Cash for peerages:New Labour is innocent, OK

Of the multiple scandals that have enveloped Britain's governing party since 1997 - the Ecclestone, Hinduja and Mittal affairs, Mandelson's mortgage, Blunkett's personal fast track visa scheme and company directorships, David Mills' backhanders from Berlusconi - the cash for peerages is easily the most serious.

So blatant is this racket that Lord Levy might just as well set up a stall at Walthamstow market to flog the honours that repeatedly fall off the back of the New Labour lorry. 'Ello luv, get yer seats in the 'Ouse of Lords 'ere! Lovely and fresh today, they are! I'm not askin' three million, I'm not askin' two, I'm giiii-vin' 'em away ... don't need a receipt, do yer, mate?

The usual New Labour delaying tactic is to dig some old fart out of retirement - geriatric QCs do nicely in these circumstances - to head an official inquiry with a preordained conclusion. Six months later, it is solemnly announced that all the evidence has been carefully considered and minister X has emerged without stain on his character, old boy. Meanwhile, politics has moved on and the public has forgotten all about it anyway.

But that wouldn't wash this time. A Scottish National Party MP raised the matter with the police, and Scotland Yard has been conducting a serious investigation. There have even been arrests. Blogs claiming inside sources reckons that charges could ensue.

I doubt it. At any rate, the spin doctors are already engaged in expectation management. Here's a carefully planted story from the FT yesterday [subscription required]. By the way, one of the hacks that gets a by-line is the respected old-stager Jimmy Burns, who despite a low profile, is probably the best investigative journo on the FT's payroll:

'Scotland Yard's "cash for honours" investigation is believed to be struggling to uncover an incriminating paper trail that proves peerages were sold illegally by Tony Blair's government.

'It is understood that detectives have failed to find a "smoking gun" despite months of intensive questioning of witnesses including Lord Levy, Mr Blair's chief fundraiser ...'

Believed to be. Understood. Who's been talking, boys?

'Optimism is growing in the government that the investigation, when completed, is unlikely to lead to anyone being charged with an offence.'

Knock me down with a feather. As they used to say in Walthamstow.

'"The police are walking through fields and picking up stones trying to unearth something," said one person close to the inquiry. "They've got the loan agreements, but haven't found anything that is a killer. Quite the opposite."'

Thank goodness for that. I was starting to worry that the Blair government is corrupt. But luckily, the fact that every single person who has given Labour £1m or more has been awarded a knighthood or peerage turns out simply to be the workings of Jungian synchronicity

.Meanwhile, politicians will go on accepting the outlook of the billionaires who fund their parties. So any measures that limit the whims of the super-rich in the interests of ordinary people will automatically prove politically unacceptable.

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